26/01/2011

WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING - THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH


I read the book and...

 
When I read it, not long ago, I liked this story very much  because of  my love for historical fiction, but also and above all,  because it is the story of  men who dreamt to achieve something extraordinary, something sublime, something which would let them beat Time. I know there have been plenty of  literary heroes whose deeds went through and beyond Time, but,  in this special case the heroes are humble people,  poor-but - talented creatures achieving very high goals. A master builder and his step son, Tom and Jack, dream of getting high, as high as the top of a gothic cathedral. The  older of them will not see his dream come true, but the younger one will. What a great epic story!
The key idea of literally building a new church has its symbolical correspondence in Prior Philip's dream of building a new higher Church at a spiritual level. His complex character, with a strong , not-flawless,  personality, is so humane and touching.
 After many years from the huge success of Ken Follet's book, The Pillars of the Earth was made into  an eight-part  TV miniseries.



... then watched the TV series
I read the novel only last summer  (my review) just as a preparation for watching this period drama  which debuted in the U.S. on Starz and in Canada on The Movie Network/Movie Central on July 23, 2010, which had its UK premiere  on Channel 4 in October 2010 and which was even on Italian sallite TV (Sky )  in a 4-part version (each episode lasting about 2 hours) .  The series has been recently nominated at the 68th Annual for 3 Golden Globe Awards.


I found the first 4 episodes (2 in the Italian version) a bit slow and not as gripping as the rest. The story starts captivating you later on. You must familiarize with the numerous characters, especially if you haven't read the novel,  so , maybe,  the slow rhythm is just useful.

The cast is amazing and , though with an exaggerated tendency to turn every little fact into a sensational show  (which is so typically US style but not always indispensable, learn from British BBC) the series is  good period drama.
We often see books turned into movies and many of them become butchered somewhere during the process of cramming hundreds of pages of story into a two-hour film. I'm convinced any attempt to turn Pillars into a big screen movie would’ve been disastrous. Even the best of screenwriters would have trouble figuring out a way to condense the story that much. A mini-series format was definitely the  right way to go with a story that focuses on numerous, interlocked subplots such as Pillars
 So, a good book has been made into an ambitious, moving series. There are many changes to the plot of the novel, but the story remains basically the same. My impression was that the screenwriters made the story-lines and their intermingling with the historical background much clearer and easier to be followed than in the book : this can be interpreted both as positive - no complexity -  and as negative -stereotyped interactions and more easily  foreseeable twists.

I particularly liked Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, Eddie Redmayne as Jack and Matthew MacFadyen as Prior Philip which are among the "good ones", those with flaws but lots of virtues and qualities. The bad guys, the villains are rather cardboard baddies, monodimensional. Waleran Bygod the Bishop and  the Hamleighs , are depicted with  no attempt to give their sadistic tendency to wickedness any inner reason, nor a plausible motivation - apart for mere greed- nor  a possibility of redemption. William and his mother, Waleran and his allies are pure evil and represent the medieval corrupt, wicked, wild  thirst for power.They are the driving force of the events but own no nuances nor facets. As usual ,  in the constant war of the good against the evil , the latter will  fail  and won't get  to lasting power, as usual, they get  the right and well-deserved comeuppance in the end. !This means ... all's well that ends well ...  Too foreseeable ?  But I like it so much when it is like that! Well...there have been rare occasions in which... but that's another story.

Differences between the book and the series
The miniseries plot differs from the book in many ways. Several events are omitted: the dispute between Henry II and Thomas Becket, which results in the martyrdom of Thomas Becket by several of Henry's knights in Canterbury Cathedral; Prior Philip's role in Becket's canonization and Henry's subsequent penance; Jack's travel to Toledo in Spain, where he is a guest at the house of a Christian Arab trader.
Moreover, some themes exist in the series that are not mentioned in the book: William Hamleigh has an incestuous relationship with his mother, Regan.


Several events have been changed or added: in the book, Johnny Eightpence is a half-wit monk, not an outlaw who confessed and entered the monastery; in the book, Philip does not mention to Regan that Aliena and her brother are hiding in the castle; rather, William spied on her continuously and arrived at the castle before his parents to rape her; the initial hanging of Jack Shareburg was replaced by burning at the stake, preceded by torture and removal of his tongue.
If you are interested in more differences between the book and the series you'll find a long list HERE.

If you want to know more about the cast click HERE. For further information,  have a look at the OFFICIAL SITE. If you haven't seen it you can buy the DVD HERE or HERE.

11 comments:

Kathleen Baldwin said...

I loved the book, but I hadn't seen the miniseries. Now I want to! This is a fab review Maria, Thanks

MARIA GRAZIA said...

Hello Kathleen! Welcome on Fly High!
I hope you can find the time to watch this series. It is a great production.

Alesya said...

i like the miniseries!but i think they change too many things from the book..

arabella_vidal said...

I mostly loved this series because of Matthew Macfayden's brilliance! I fall in love with this man every time I see him perform. Without doubt one of the best actors Britain has ever produced. I liked the series overall, but I think the final episode was very rushed. It left me wanting closure because the wrapping up of all the various plots needed more time.

lunarossa said...

Thanks for this, MG. I haven't read the book and consequently not watched the series either as I always prefer to read a book before watching it on screen. But I will soon. Just the size of the book has always looked a bit daunting to me! Ciao! A.

Judy said...

Lovely review! I haven't read the book of this, but recently saw the mini-series when it was shown in the UK and enjoyed it a lot, especially seeing Rufus Sewell as he is one of my favourite actors and doesn't get enough good parts. (Having said that, he has also just been on British TV as the star of the detective series Zen, which was actually filmed around Rome - don't know if that one will be shown in Italy, MG, as it is full of British actors playing Italians!)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Judy
Glad you liked this series and I agree with you on Rufus Sewell, he was very good as Tom Builder. I've seen Zen, just the first episode so far. There are British and Italian actors all speaking English and, yes, it was shot in Rome and nearby. I want to see the rest, the other 2 episodes as soon as possible!
I've heard it is going to be aired on an Italian channel (canale 5) but I prefer to watch it in the original version.

ichthusify urself said...

> i've come across the book many years before, wasn't able to read it, what a bummer! i wish to come across the mini-series in dvd form

Debs Carr said...

I haven't read the book but loved the series and definitely want to read it now.

TeeTotallyNot said...

this brings back memories... I only discovered Pillars a few months back and admit to - initially - just watching it because of Matthew.. but what a great cast (Eddie Redmayne!!! wow. and not to forget Rufus.. looking into Zen now :)) and even though (or maybe because) I've never read the book I absolutely enjoyed the series. Love medieval stories and this one was very exciting, well told, and the gorgeous photography made Pillars a total delight. Own it now and re-watch occasionally. Not sure though I'll ever read the book now that TV has put certain pictures in my mind.. would maybe start comparing and nitpicking :)

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