The Pillars of the Earth, "Anarchy": struggling in adaptation

Quick Take: The Pillars of the Earth, "Anarchy"
What we see on Starz unfortunately pales in comparison to the book – at least thus far – in terms of storytelling power and coherence and overall entertainment value.

Review: The Pillars of the Earth, "Anarchy"
(Part I) So, I'll say first off that I love Ken Follett's novel, The Pillars of the Earth. It's an ambitious epic, an adventurous and lusty and dramatic affair that somehow gets you to care about the building of a cathedral and the general politics and culture of 12th Century England. Therefore, I was more than a little excited to find out that Starz – which recently pulled off quite an entertaining spectacle with its first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand – was to put on a mini-series based on Follett's grand work.

The result, at least after the first hour are… well, I'm tempted to give it a big ehhh... with the hope that things will greatly improve in what's to come.

My sense at this point is that this production struggled to successfully adapt a printed work for screen. Particularly because this is a truly epic novel we're talking about (it's a hefty 1,008 pages in length for starters), squeezing the main events into an eight-hour production would be a challenge for anyone. But unfortunately I felt that strain from the opening scenes, as though the writers were trying to tick off checkboxes of all the significant scenes of the novel. The first two Harry Potter movies brought a similar sensation. And, even with having read the novel, I had trouble myself in following what was going on at times. On the flipside, an extraordinary adaptation of an epic novel – or trilogy in this case – is what Peter Jackson and company did with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

I must say that I only found myself truly enjoying scenes involving Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen) and Waleran (Ian McShane). Both are fine actors and immediately imbue their respective characters with a depth and complexity that is noticeably lacking elsewhere (though Rufus Sewell, as Tom Builder, and a few others also turn in nice work). Philip and Waleran emerge as foils in the novel, representing something close to good and evil amidst swirling forces and struggles for power in the realm. The decades-long quest to build a cathedral at Kingsbridge Priory – spurred initially by Tom Builder's skill and ambition and soon picked up by Philip and others at the priory – becomes a thematic proxy for the gradual turn to progress and technological development and achievement in the Middle Ages.

But I fear I'm leaning too much on the novel in reviewing the first part of this mini-series. What we see on Starz unfortunately pales in comparison to the book – at least thus far – in terms of storytelling power and coherence and overall entertainment value.

More thoughts on "Anarchy":

  • The acting and direction felt strained and awkward and stodgy at times, particularly when the main players weren't involved in scenes. It almost had the sense of a school play at a few moments, I'd dare say.
  •  

    Recap: The Pillars of the Earth, "Anarchy"
    The succession of England’s crown is in doubt and causes King Henry’s daughter and nephew to compete for the throne. Church politics see Philip elected the new prior, which leaves him indebted to Deacon Waleran.

    By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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