Friday, 22 October 2010

The worst time to try and get a cathedral built

The Pillars of the Earth is a very long book. It takes a while to build a cathedral in the 12th century, especially when there are lots of thoroughly evil people around to try and stop you. It's a sprawling story where people grow up and grow old and kings see off several generations of traitors. It's also brutal, violent, and uncompromising. So you'd have to be brave to try and put it on television - brave people like Ridley and Tony Scott. There's Ian McShane as a sly bishop, Rufus Sewell as a nice builder (there must be some mistake there), and Matthew Macfadyen being very Welsh. But the most important thing to mention here, particularly if you've read the book, is that the adaption is spot on. It could have been lifted straight from the (many, many) pages of the book. When an adaption is this good it replaces the images the book left in your mind. You begin to believe that you always imagined Earl Bartholomew to look just like Donald Sutherland. The town of Kingsbridge, with all its sulky monks, has been taken straight from your brain. The only slight difference is William Hamleigh, who doesn't quite look enough like the embodiment of evil. In a way though, all these comparisons are irrelevant. Without ever having heard of the book, The Pillars of the Earth should still live up to its promise as an intricate and muddy medieval drama. It could never have fitted into a film, it needs hours and hours (and hours) of room. I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses across the century, and listening to more of Prior Philip saying 'It's God's will it is, I'm shooer of it'.

If you haven't read the book, and fancy giving a chunk of your life to an historical epic, read it first. If you're not that bothered, just watch this. It's only just started on British telly. After watching the next eight hours I'll tell you if it was worth it.


  1. Aww, he just looks so comfortable with a lethal weapon in his hand (as in Deadwood).

  2. Well done. I read the book, but realised I just couldn't commit to the TV series, so didn't even go there.