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The Pillars of the Earth

4.4 out of 5 stars 645 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Ken Follett’s best-selling novel is brought to life in a star-studded and critically-acclaimed eight-part miniseries. Emerging from the war-torn shadows of England’s Dark Ages, an idealistic mason, Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell, The Holiday) sets out on a quest of erecting a glorious Cathedral bathed in light. But when that light threatens to illuminate the dark secrets of ambitious Bishop Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane, 2005 Golden Globe Best Actor, TV's Deadwood) and the battling progeny of King Henry, Queen Maud (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and King Stephen (Tony Curran, Ondine), they’ll stop at nothing to keep those secrets safe. The epic miniseries event also stars Matthew MacFadyen (Frost/Nixon) as Prior Philip, Hayley Atwell (Love Hate) as the beautiful noblewoman Aliena and Donald Sutherland (TV's Dirty Sexy Money) as Bartholomew.

The Pillars of the Earth Episode Summaries

Episode 1: “Anarchy”

The death of King Henry’s heir ignites a battle between Queen Maud and King Stephen to become the successor to the throne. Monk Philip is enticed by an offer from Father Waleran Bigod; in return for his endorsement of Bigod to the appointment of Bishop, Philip will be elected Prior. Tom Builder travels the countryside in search of work.

Episode 2: “Master Builder”

When a fire destroys Kingsbridge Church, Tom presents a plan to Prior Philip to construct a glorious new cathedral filled with light. As Philip politics for funds to aid in the church’s construction, he finds himself caught between Bishop Bigod and King Stephen’s supporter, Earl Percy Hamleigh.

Episode 3: “Redemption”

Prior Philip and Percy’s son William find themselves in a political stalemate as they compete for access to valuable stone. Jack demonstrates amazing artistic prowess as he begins to carve a monument to St. Adolphus and the destroyed Kingsbridge Cathedral. ”

Episode 4: “Battlefield”

William plans his way towards Earldom and soon discovers he is not alone in his ambition; a mysterious knight seeks the same appointment. The battle between Maud and Stephen rages, culminating in hostages from each side being seized. Philip is tortured into confessing to the betrayal of Earl Bartholomew.

Episode 5: “Legacy”

Tom attempts to mediate a camaraderie between Jack and his son, Alfred. However, their intense rivalry for the affection of Bartholomew’s daughter, Aliena, proves too much of an obstacle. Waleran and Regan Hamleigh negotiate a hostage exchange while William mounts an attack on Kingsbridge in an effort to halt Aliena’s pending success.

Episode 6: “Witchcraft”

Aliena’s brother, Richard, is shocked as he emerges from the battlefield only to find his sister destitute and incapable of supporting his knighthood. Aliena is torn between honoring a promise made to her father, Bartholomew, and her love for Jack. A catastrophe in Kingsbridge paves the way for Waleran to orchestrate Philip’s impeachment.

Episode 7: “New Beginnings”

Jack’s travels provide him with valuable information which will aid him in constructing his stepfather’s majestic dream cathedral. Aliena tracks Jack down using only her intuition and the warm trail left by his distinctive carvings. Bigod makes Philip an attractive offer, but it’s one which carries an unattractive price.

Episode 8: “The Work of Angels”

Eight years have passed. Now completely obsessed with the notion of erecting Tom’s cathedral, Jack is unable to focus on anything outside of his divine calling. Aliena remains fixated on securing her family’s right to the Earldom of Shiring and thus, fulfilling the promise she made to her father.


A cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power, this Starz adaptation of Ken Follett's massive page-turner offers all the scheming and plotting of royal potboilers like Elizabeth and Showtime's The Tudors. The story takes place in the 12th century, when King Henry I loses his son at sea. After Henry's death, his nephew, Stephen (Tony Curran), assumes the throne, against the wishes of the Earl of Bartholomew (Donald Sutherland, star of Follett's Eye of the Needle) and Henry's daughter, Maud (Alison Pill, convincing as a Brit), which pits them against Bishop Waleran (Deadwood's Ian McShane) and Lady Hamleigh (Sarah Parish) and her bloodthirsty son, William (David Oakes). Tom (Rufus Sewell), a mason, and his apprentice, Jack (Savage Grace's Eddie Redmayne), enter the fray when they offer to construct a cathedral for Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen).

In the decades to come, Philip and the earl's children, Aliena (Hayley Atwell) and Richard (Sam Claflin), battle the bishop and the Hamleighs to complete Kingsbridge Cathedral and restore their family name. Jack's mother, Ellen (Natalia Wörner), aids in their efforts, while Jack and Alfred (Jared Leto look-alike Liam Garrigan), Tom's ne'er-do-well son, compete for Aliena's affections. As fortunes rise and fall, there's rape, incest, and executions, resulting in nudity, profanity, and splashes of blood. There are also over-the-top sequences, like a strange smothering, but the multi-character story line is involving, and the principal cast, particularly Sewell, is up to the task. The eight-part series includes extra features that explore the digital effects, the animated opening titles, and the production with Follett, executive producer Ridley Scott, actor/writer John Pielmeier, and director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Special Features

The Making of Pillars of the Earth
Visual Effects Progression
Main Titles Progression

Product Details

  • Actors: Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, David Oakes
  • Directors: Sergio Mimica Gezzan
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, Surround Sound, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Dubbed: French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony
  • DVD Release Date: November 23, 2010
  • Run Time: 421 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (645 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003UD7J94
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,790 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Pillars of the Earth" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. J. Kalas on July 28, 2010
Format: DVD
I can't wait till the entire piece is available because based on the first 2 episodes I was able to watch on instant streaming, it is a PHENOMINAL interpretation of the original book...one of my all time favorites. The characters are portrayed honestly and without the distraction of big name stars. Except of course for Donald Sutherland, who not only is great and recognizable, but blends to whatever character he plays and this role is no exception. The brutality, the vulgarity and the sexuality are all consistent with the historical times so these aspects are not solicitous or titillating. They portray a history that was brute force, political and survivalist in nature. It is a wonderful adaptation of a truly incredible book!
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Format: DVD
PILLARS OF THE EARTH is an ambitious cinematic adaptation of Ken Follett's novel by the same name. This first season is to be eight episodes, with a 'Season 2' already suggested. The overall message of this historical novel can be summarized as follows: this is a story 'about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. It is set in the middle of the twelfth century, primarily during the time sometimes called the Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket. The story traces the development of Gothic architecture out of the preceding Romanesque architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time. Although Kingsbridge is the name of an actual English town, the Kingsbridge in the novel is actually a fictional location representative of a typical market town of the time'.

Shot on location in Hungary with director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, director of photography Attila Szalay, and set to the fine musical scoring by Trevor Morris, PILLARS OF THE EARTH is off to a fine start in the first three episodes. While the series is based on historic facts, there are so many sidebars of added information that it is a bit difficult to keep the flow of the story straight. Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen) yearns to build a cathedral in Kingsbridge, much to the chagrin of the evil Waleran (Ian McShane). Philip's innate kindness and focus of his mission leads him to Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) whose wife has died in childbirth and the newborn is left by Tom on his mother's grave only to be saved by a quiet monk.
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Format: DVD
Early in the series, I was a 5-star fan, but I knocked off a star after there were a few deviations from the plot of the book. Obviously, nearly any book that's being converted to television/movie must be abbreviated or adapted in some way; Ken Follett's original work contained a lot of internal monologue that would have been difficult to translate to screen. The show's strengths are it's epic scale, incredible level of production (sets/costumes/etc.), and PERFECT cast. I honestly can't imagine anyone else as Prior Phillip, Jack, Aliena (although she took an episode to grow on me), Waleran Bigod, Remigius, or almost any other character. So, in summary:

- Perfect cast
- Amazing production design, locations/sets, costumes, etc.
- Epic scale

-Plot differs from the book as the series goes on

My recommendation: enjoy the show for it's strengths, but do yourself a favor and READ THE BOOK. You will fall in love with this story and these characters!
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
7 hrs is NOT enough. An elaborate cast, set, costuming, script adaptation of Ken Follet's classic novel. Historical content, leading one to believe a British monk & mason invented Gothic church architecture, including the winged `flying' buttress. The truth is acknowledged near the end, but not before getting the viewer totally enthralled in this action/adventure/romantic epic drama. Builders, monks and royalty of the middle Ages between the years 1120 and 1170, shot on a Budapest location.

The awesome cast has been listed elsewhere, as large as the production itself. First class in every way. Truly this should become a recognized Century 21 classic, a modern "Gone With the Wind." Impressive in every detail, even having the book's author in a merchant's role, episode 7.

The series is "NOT RATED" but beware, if it makes a difference, there is full frontal nudity, violent scenes, sex, & bold language. Blood, decapitation, incest...well, enough warning. I'd still recommend this to today's 12-year-olds and beyond because of the powerful story, dramatic filming, and historical/educational dramatization. You ENTER the Middle Ages immediately after passing through the opening credits. Spellbinding. Mesmerizing. Bewitching. Stellar.

Some helpful genealogy you might want to copy/paste/print:
King Henry I: only son died at sea; Maud (birthed Henry II); nephew Stephen
Tom Builder: wife Agnes; son Alfred; daughter Martha; son Jonathan
Bartholomew: daughter Aliena (birthed Tom); son Richard
Jacques Cherbourg: son Jack via lover Ellen
Percy Hamleigh: wife Regan; son William

Eight episodes each about 53 minutes:
1 ANARCHY- Henry I dies after the king's heir is lost in the sea burning of the royal ship.
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