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Friday, August 06, 2010

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH: Epic television we haven't seen in DECADES

Who'da thought that the story about the building of a church would make for the grandest use of the television medium since Lonesome Dove and War and Remembrance more than twenty years ago?

The best thing on the tube this summer in this blogger's opinion is without a doubt The Pillars of the Earth, currently running on the Starz channels. Based on Ken Follett's bestselling 1989 novel and with production from Ridley Scott's company, The Pillars of the Earth is an eight-hour historical epic set during the Anarchy: the period between the sinking of the White Ship and the assassination of Thomas Becket in the England of the twelfth century. Amid the political and religious intrigues of the fight between Stephen and Matilda for the throne of England, the virtuous Prior Philip dreams of helping the people of his parish improve their lot. When Kingsbridge's original church burns to the ground, master mason Tom Builder presents Philip with plans for a majestic new cathedral. Set against their plot are Sir Percy Hamleigh and his wife Lady Regan (who is as cunning as she is hideous), their sadistic son William (who fears Hell above all else) and the wicked Bishop Waleran Bigod. These allies of King Stephen also must contend with Aliena and Richard: children of the Earl Bartholomew who seek to avenge the honor of their father and regain their title. And then there is Jack: the step-son of Tom Builder, who hides a secret history that is set to clash the secular and the spiritual against each other in an already tumultuous era.

Starring Ian McShane as Waleran, Donald Sutherland as Bartholomew, Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, Matthew Macfadyen as Prior Philip, and with Eddie Redmayne in what should be a breakout role and contender for Emmy with his portrayal of Jack, The Pillars of the Earth is sumptuous in its acting, its production values and its attempt at storytelling in the television medium. The result is a work of art more of the caliber of Oscar-nominated film. It also single-handedly resurrects the miniseries - narcoleptic for far too long - as a potent narrative tool.

The first two hours aired two weeks ago and the second part was broadcast last week. Part 3 airs tonight on Starz, and throughout the next week. I've already got The Pillars of the Earth Blu-ray set pre-ordered. But don't wait for that: check it out now if you've got Starz, and prepare for a treat. Highly, highly recommended.