Period dramas can be seriously awesome.
The chaos and drama can be compartmentalised as the old times, and is there anything better than an awesome sword fight? I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End but I figured I will jump in blind. Fortunately for me, they are pretty damn good.
For those unaware, these mini-series are based on the books by Ken Follet from his Kingsbridge series. The books and series are all set in a fictional town called Kingsbridge in England. Kingsbridge is a small village which is pretty heavily controlled by the monastery. Each series is based here at major historical times.
The Pillars of the Earth takes place during the Anarchy which was some time in the 12th century where thanks to the death of the king under suspicious circumstances, there is a massive power vacuum. This means heaps of people are trying to take power and so much drama is going to ensue.
The story itself follows a stonemason called Tom Builder.
He is looking for work and takes his family to Kingsbridge. Due to a fire, they need a new Cathedral, so Tom proposes a massive super awesome stone cathedral. Though things can’t be that simple, instead the town and the Prior have to deal with the politics of trying to get money and resources. Unfortunately the Bishop is pretty power hungry and undermines the Priors goals. He is weirdly devoutly religious, but also has no issues with sins that further his ambition. This dichotomy is incredibly portrayed, really helped by the awesome acting that is Ian McShane.
The story’s heart follows the loving characters as they try to achieve the building of the cathedral, but as it goes we are exposed to all of the politics making it happen, or not happen. Due to the chaos of the Anarchy happening, the crown is so tight on funds that they seem to get far too invested in the building of this cathedral.
World Without End jumps forward 157 years to our much bigger village of Kingsbridge at the start of the Hundred Years War and the delightful Black death. Now the monastery has a convent who both hold some power in the village. This time the major villain is in the monastery with a large number of our good characters coming from the convent and some general peasants.
The King is still a major character, but his focus is on holding power and beating his mum who is the queen of France. For the most part his involvement in Kingsbridge is making decisions that are manipulated by our main characters.
World without End is still great, but it struggles a bit more without that focussed throughline which the story is built around like the cathedral in The Pillars of the Earth.
The town tries to build a bridge and a little hospital, but they are more minor plot points as opposed to the importance of the cathedral.
One thing that both mini-series struggle with is the volume of characters in the concurrent story lines. We jump between characters in different cities, from the king, to the kids of a major character. This makes the first episode or two a bit harder to follow, but it’s worth it. Both pull the series back so that every storyline makes sense to be involved and they all smash together.
The other thing that is a bit so-so is the good characters are also unbelievably good, and the bad characters are unbelievably bad. There is so little grey in here which would make the characters more interesting. None of the baddies tend to have any doubt in their mind, they are just baddies until their deaths. This is far from a deal breaker, but it does make the plot a little more thin. Fortunately the acting is excellent so it does still make for an interesting adventure.
The Blu-Rays have some decent behind the scenes features.
Weirdly The Pillars of the Earth ones are spread out of the discs. I went to watch one on the first disc and accidentally saw the start of some spoilers so had to return after the series was finished to finish them. It’s an odd choice as I then had to switch all the discs again to enjoy all the features. Not a major issue, but an odd choice.
The Ken Follet Mini-Series Collection: The Pillars of the Earth / World Without End on Bluray is so much better than I was expecting.
The stories and deliver have their flaws, but what it does is great. Instead of being a medieval epic, we wind up with a slice of life story for a small village trying to do epic things for their size.
This makes it a weirdly unique experience, that take a little to wind up but finishes with a satisfying bang each time.