Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth

Pillars is a miniseries based on a British historical fiction novel, and plays like a half decent representation of what the Game of Thrones series will probably be like. It's about the creation of the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral, set against the actual reign of King Stephen during the 1100s. A Cathedral already being an incredible undertaking back then, construction is beset by complications arising from the dispute over the throne and the ambition of a noble family and a bishop played by Ian McShane, who is more or less the story's main villain. There are a couple other notable recognizable faces, including Donald Sutherland, who gets credited in every episode despite only appearing in a couple, and Hayley Atwell who stood out in the remake of The Prisoner that aired last year and does again here as the daughter of a fallen Earl.

So the show is a mix of a very human story mostly focusing on the family that guides the building of the Cathedral, endless political maneuverings and backstabbing, and some decently filmed (for television) battles. The latter two tended to interest me more, although it's hard to ignore what is really the emotional core of the story. The good guys are mostly likable and the bad guys are pretty easy to hate, although I will say it's harder than it should be to really be against Ian McShane whatever he's doing, so good is he at every role he seems to take.

There are a few plot bits that are pretty annoying, but overall it's a solid tale, and pretty damn well paced for about eight hours of content. One thing that always kind of bothered me was the passage of time though. The timeline lurches forward in fits and starts, sometimes months or years at a time, and by the end I was unsure about how much time things took. And it never seemed like the right amount of effort was put into portraying the ages of the characters. Young characters aren't recast often as they get older so they stay looking too young, or just disappear from the plot. And most of the other characters don't age much as the years pass by, until something gets triggered and suddenly the next time you see them they're in full-on old person makeup. It's a bit clumsy, and maybe something of a budget concern, but it doesn't hurt the story too much. Anyone interested in some medieval history portrayed in perhaps a less than historical way should probably give it a shot.

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