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The Pillars of the Earth – A Few Final Words September 4, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
6 comments

(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

One more post on “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series before I move my blog on to other topics… In the previous posts, I have been very specific about plot-lines, and discrepancies between the book and the series, and what I thought worked in a specific episode, and what I thought did not work. I’ve done that to death—no more of that here. My final comments will be general, separated into two sections. First, I’ll make general comments on the entire mini-series, like a review, a compact review. Second, I’ll comment on what “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series says about our times. (What?) Actually, the comments will be even narrower, about how two of the biggest differences between the book and the mini-series seem to have been shaped by larger issues in our own world. I’ll explain more when I get to that.

“The Pillars of the Earth” Mini-Series Reviewed.
“The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series is great entertainment, with action, romance and intrigue set against the exotic, unfamiliar time and place of the Middle Ages in England. It is well-acted and beautifully filmed, including the effort made to place us inside one of the main characters of the production, the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral. Viewers who enjoy historical dramas will enjoy this one, as they are transported to a world utterly different than the 21st Century. Those familiar with the book will wish there was more time to tell the story. But they will certainly recognize the book in the mini-series.

Casting was nearly flawless. Matthew Mcfadyen as the pious Prior Philip brought his mellifluous voice to the portrayal, setting the tone effectively for this character. Ian McShane plays that slippery, slimy villain so well that we willingly choose to ignore the fact that he starts old and never ages. It would be hard to imagine a more effective Waleran Bigod, so we sit back and enjoy his great work. Natalia Wörner plays Ellen with the boldness and daring the character demands, a nonconformist at a time when a single woman in the forest would need a lot of strength and courage to do what she does. As Jack’s mother, and as the curse of the villains, literally, Wörner carries the part effectively. I would have liked to have seen as much Ellen in the mini-series as there was in the original novel. Eddie Redmayne as Jack has a wide stretch as a character, and he pulls it off pretty well. He may be a tad more convincing as the quiet, mysterious creative savant of the first part of the series than he is in the later stages as the dynamic leader, commander of the huge building project. But he makes this huge evolution of Jack work.

I have only a few criticisms. First, great liberties are taken with the actual history. No one watching should mistake this lavish, engaging entertainment for an accurate portrayal of the English succession conflict that eventually ended with Henry II of England on the throne, starting the Plantagenet line of English monarchs. Second, sometimes in the interests of “cliff-hangers,” or high drama, some silly over-the-top sections suddenly sprang out of the mostly dignified, credible drama. I am thinking particularly of King Stephen foaming at the mouth at the end of Episode Two, and every scene with the weird incest-hinting between William Hamleigh and his mother. People who like these types of dramas are generally adverse to campiness, and at times the series flirted with the line dividing sharply set conflict and drama from campiness.

What the Production of “The Pillars of the Earth” Mini-Series Says About Our Times
This will be the most opinion-laden, contemplative, personal writing I will do on “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series. In mid June, I wrote about what Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman said about his times, and what my own novel, just published, The Swords of Faith, says about our times. I do believe that two big changes between Follett’s novel and the mini-series reflect our own society’s grappling with two wider issues of today. The two changes between the novel and the mini-series? 1) The different portrayals of the church and church characters and 2) the different approach to the character of villain William Hamleigh.

The Church and Church Characters in “The Pillar of the Earth” Mini-Series. “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series portrays the church characters much less sympathetically than The Pillars of the Earth novel. Prior Philip is more scheming and less principled in the mini-series (and he is the most principled of the church characters in the mini-series). Waleran Bigod is completely unredeemable and evil in the series; in the book he is more nuanced. Bigod is the main villain of the mini-series—William Hamleigh is the main villain of the book. Even Philip’s ally in the mini-series becomes a potential assassin of an innocent person (Jack) to gain proper burial for his deceased prostitute sister, a clear lesson offered by the mini-series on what religious fanaticism can do to good people. The mini-series omits the concluding chapters of the book when church triumphs over royalty after the murder of Thomas Beckett. Ellen in the series acts as the chief anti-church character to the extent that her character becomes more one-dimensional and less featured because she is ostracized from Kingsbridge due to her provocative anti-church behavior. King Stephen is portrayed as a little demented because he says he speaks directly to God (Episode Five). For this time in history, such a sentiment might well have been considered normal for a king, but it is not depicted as normal, or even sane. After Richard returns from the crusade, he comments negatively about the crusade, and the anti-semitism of the crusades, though this has really nothing to do with the plot. Waleran Bigod in the book becomes a repentant monk at the end. In the mini-series, his evil is unredeemable as he “climbs high to fall.”

So, the church appears to be portrayed more negatively for a television audience, presumably a mass audience. What does that choice say about our current society? Right now, the world struggles with secular versus sacred, with organized religion and religious fanatics, with a search for the proper place of spirituality in our world. Muslim religious fanatics launched a terror attack on the United States that triggered two wars. There is a real concern that organized religion produces dangerous fanatics, and so is a potential evil. (In 1999, I wrote my own essay on this: “Leave Organized Religions—And Find God!”) The comparison is made—fanatic Muslims of today launch terror attacks the way fanatic Christians launched the crusades during the Middle Ages, the way fanatic Christians launched the Inquisition a few hundred years later. This acts as an influence on how organized religion is portrayed in today’s mass entertainment. We have Waleran Bigod torturing his own prior and supporting other atrocities to advance his nefarious ends couched in the guise of the church. The Ellen character further advances this perspective with her not-so-subtle hints at spirituality without organized religion. (This theme gets only slight development—after all, this story is about building a huge, elegant church for the glory of God, God very much worshipped within an organized religious context!)

So I am asserting, consciously or subconsciously, that organized religion gets a less favorable treatment in the television series, because religious fanaticism in the service of organized religion is a pervasive fear in our society. Fanaticism is a theme of my own novel, The Swords of Faith. When the main characters behave less fanatically, they are more successful securing what they are looking for. The idea is that good people of different faiths can thrive together during times of confrontation if they can accept the idea that good people can have different paths to God, that there may be more than one path to God.

As we moved through the “Enlightenment,” the “Age of Reason,” the “scientific revolution,” we toyed with the idea of doing away with God. But this has not worked as well as those enlightened, well-reasoned, scientifically logical intellectuals had imagined a world without God would function. Governments acting in the name of the anti-religious political/economic system of “Communism,” inspired by Karl “religion-is-the-opiate-of-the-people” Marx, are responsible for the slaughter of more innocent people than any religiously inspired slaughters. The Nazis, religiously ambivalent, inspired in part by a misapplication of the philosophy of Frederich Nietszche (the philosopher who said “God is dead”), were responsible for millions more innocent deaths. So do we look for God again, recognizing that humanity has a natural desire to seek the Divine? Or do we recognize that the Divine is present in some way and as intelligent creatures, seek to uncover its mysteries? Do we look back to religion, and God? We grapple with these questions, and worry that established religions are insufficient, maybe even destructive as we seek the answers. So the established Christian church of the Middle Ages becomes a target of that present-day concern.

We find ourselves challenging ingrained assumptions—was monotheism truly the huge advance most western civilization classes describe it as? Monotheism led to the Chosen People, and to the prosthelytizing religions of Christianity and Islam. Before monotheism, conquerors did not worry about the deities worshipped by their subjects. They just added the gods of the conquered to their own gods. There are so many recognized gods in Hinduism that there is no one accepted accurate count of the number. But the moment we went to one god, this raised the issue of who or what is the correct god. To survive monotheism, I believe we need to adopt a “more-than-one-path-to-God” approach. I think society is headed in the same direction on this point, so our entertainment reflects this. “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series reflects this, as does my own novel, The Swords of Faith.

William Hamleigh in “The Pillars of the Earth” Mini-Series. William Hamleigh is a different villain in “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series than he is in The Pillars of the Earth novel. In the book, he is an evil stalker from the beginning, obsessed with Aliena, but not really loving her—more obsessed with possessing her. When she rejects him, his obsession multiplies, as if this is a contest he must win. His desire to possess now grows into a desire not just to possess, but also to humiliate. William is simply a horrible human being, with no apparent real conscience. The only real curb on his malevolent behavior is his fear of hell. But again, this stems more from his own selfishness, his desire to avoid the searing agony of hell. William Hamleigh is simply evil. No further explanation is offered.

In the mini-series, William Hamleigh seems to be more of a manipulated victim—manipulated by his twisted mother, who has a strange, incestuous obsession with her son, and manipulated by Waleran Bigod, that dastardly autocrat of the church, that symbol of organized religion at its worst. It is as if the mini-series producers needed to offer a reason for William to be so evil. There had to be an explanation—just being evil wasn’t enough. (Of course, this can be an endless regression, because we then need to know why William’s mother was so evil and twisted. With Waleran Bigod, we can accept his evil as generating from the so-called evils of organized religion.)

This dramatizes another issue that confronts our society—in a more secular world, without organized religion to circumscribe good and evil, how do we deal with evil? Are those who perpetrate evil acts, who inflict barbarity on their fellow humans with little remorse, always inspired by some other evil done to them, or are some people bad simply right from the start? Clearly the mini-series producers felt it would be easier to accept William as a villain if his evil acts were a result of his victimization by others. Follette seems to have been less concerned with this idea.

I grew up during the 1960s. (I turned 16 in 1970.) I went through my phase of believing that if we just brought enough love and understanding to everyone, all humans would live in harmony. After all, wasn’t that the real message of Jesus? But I learned fairly young, that there are bad people in the world. There are people who will take earnest attempts to approach them with love and understanding and snicker as they devise ways to exploit the charitable person making the unselfish effort. There are truly bad people in the world; they’re just bad with no explanation, like William Hamleigh in the book.

I recently read a book that addresses this issue: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D. The book explains that an estimated four per cent of humans basically have no conscience at all. The normal empathy humans usually feel for each other, that little flicker in the back of the mind that says “you’re wrong/what you’re doing is bad/you need to stop”—it doesn’t exist for the sociopath. Sure, there could still be some kind of victimization component involved. But though she is not able to offer with certainty the causes of this lack of conscience, she implies there is a genetic component involved—some people are born at least with the tendency to be bad. She gives riveting, chilling case studies of the conscienceless, acting in normal, familiar settings, inflicting damages on people, some who trust them, some who will never suspect what has been done to them, with no second thoughts, like cats torturing prey before dispatching it.

Yes, fellow idealists, there are bad people in the world. What shall we do with them? Shall we search for how they were victimized, and then treat them not as wrongdoers to be punished, but as victims to be helped? Are we wrong to fight them with all our resources if they truly are victims? Or do we need to destroy them before they destroy others, and protect the good from the bad first, before worrying about the victimization element? If we had rescued William from the clutches of his mother, and the evil churchman Waleran Bigod, would Shiring and Kingsbridge have been spared from his brutalities? In the book, no. In the mini-series, maybe. Or should we forget about helping William and just get him out of the way, for the protection of everyone else? The issue of how to deal with evil does arise as we look at the discrepancies between the book and the mini-series. The answer seems a shade different in the two versions of this story.

_______

I hope you have enjoyed my commentaries on “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series, and will pop in with some comments of your own—agreements or dissents. Also, I hope you will sample some of my other writing, at this blog, as well as my recently released novel, The Swords of Faith, and at my internet column.

I’ll be off of posts for a little over a week when I’ll come in with a book review. Magic the Cat will guest blog again, probably about a week from now, with what he says is some serious news.

(Synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth novel.)

*****

The Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)
The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

 

 

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The Pillars of the Earth – Comments on Final Episode August 28, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth.
Tags: , , , , ,
6 comments

(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

“The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series came to an end this week; yes, with one villain dangling from a noose choking to death and another spitting blood rather than accepting an absolution of sins from a victorious hero. But fittingly, the final scene featured the dedication of the completed cathedral, white, bright, with colored windows and light flooding into the huge structure. In this post, as has been my custom, I will comment on how this episode matches with the book; also, where I think it succeeds and where I have quibbles. Next week, I’ll offer a final post, with broader impressions and observations, and a wider perspective. But for now—some discussion of the specifics of this week’s episode.

I’ll discuss one issue immediately. I wondered how the producers would fit all the story into the time left. Simple. They skipped Part Six, Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen! There is no murder of Thomas Beckett (no hanging of William Hamleigh for his part in that crime), no procession led by Philip to dramatize Beckett’s martyrdom, and no dramatic concluding scene with King Henry II symbolically flogged as penance for his role in inspiring the murder.

But was that enough of a change to give them time to tell this story? I don’t think so. An impression that seeps in over and over when viewing the final episode is the sense of a lack of time to tell the whole story. The producers follow the book up to a point, but they just don’t have the time to fill out this big story the way Follette does with 400,000-plus words. I’ll mention this lack of time issue as it comes up, and it will come up often in these comments:

The Relic that Revitalizes Kingsbridge: Jack is a more active participant in this part of the story, using the stone that’s “no good” for building in France, but that Jack sees has potential for other uses. Jack actually creates the relic himself in the mini-series. I liked this addition to the story. But, the lack-of-time theme already applies here. In the book, Jack uses the relic to gather builders and money as he makes his way from France to Kingsbridge. He arrives with just about all they will need to make a great start on the cathedral, instead of just popping up with the relic. But in a television series, there is not enough time to let that kind of storyline develop.

Jack and Aliena: The reunion in France, with Aliena following the trail of Jack’s work assignments, is right from the book, and offers the same satisfaction, though for my taste, it takes Jack a long time to ask about the baby! The lack-of-time component? We do see Aliena, at the beginning of the second hour, getting testy with Jack. In the book, this testiness comes from years of being unable to live with Jack as man and wife, because she cannot get a request for annulment of her marriage to Alfred past Waleran Bigod. In fact, she is actually on the verge of leaving Jack at one point. In the series, we have the stock “my husband/boyfriend/male-significant-other loves his work more than me” whining, with Jack lashing out in response. They depict the friction, but don’t have time to develop it with more richness and specificity to these characters. Hey, well, Jack and Aliena do end up married at the end—widowhood took care of the annulment problem, as it did in the book, though in a different way.

The Secret of Jack’s Father/The Ring: I think this is great storytelling, added to the series, not in the original book. The Cherbourg scenes give Jack more information to use when it will count at the end. The threads of this secret tie together. These additional details on the secret of the death of Jack’s father tie into the building of the cathedral, also improving the story. We knew the ring would come into play, and it did, at the dramatic moment when “little” Martha (now a grown young woman) comes to the rescue. She had stolen the ring, not her brother, because she secretly loves Jack. There is no ring in the book. The ring is a nice addition for a visual storytelling medium.

Prior Philip: He gets his position back pretty quickly, and returns to his pious nature as featured more consistently in the book. The first part of the episode, during which Philip refuses to work with Waleran Bigod, contrasts well with Philip at the beginning of the mini-series, when he compromises with Waleran Bigod to become prior of Kingsbridge. This creates a powerful internal journey for Philip, learning not to compromise with evil, evil personified in the form of Waleran Bigod. Philip is less of a direct actor at this point in the mini-series. As I will discuss later under another heading, Philip in the book is able to be manipulative while retaining his sense of holiness, coming up with his most inventive solution of all in settling a dilemma facing the folks on the good-guy side of the ledger. Philip does deliver the series’ closing sermon—“a cathedral is never finished because it is never perfect.” In the book, we also experience what appears to be the closing theme through Philip’s eyes, that good can still triumph over evil eventually even when at times the savage brutes of the world can for a time hold the dominant positions.

The Royals: This definitely belongs in the category of the lack-of-time issue. After initially focusing more on the royals, for the final episode we get condensed, and questionable, history. I certainly invite those with more familiarity with the history to comment, but I am certain Robert of Gloucester did not die on the battlefield, with his head displayed on a pike. We also have the strange dream scene where young Henry says “pleased to meet you” and kills Stephen’s son Eustace. It’s a funny scene, reflecting the coming aggressive vitality of future king Henry II. And this is depicted as a dream.

The correct history would probably be considered less dramatic. Young Henry Plantagenet, son of Maud/Matilda, crosses from France to England, looking to take the throne from Stephen, in essence, pursuing his mother’s claim. A peace agreement is reached. Henry is to become king after Stephen’s death. That is exactly what happened. Henry Plantagenet became Henry II of England, father of Richard the Lionheart (and King John, signer of the Magna Carta). Another part of the peace agreement was that all titles would revert to what they were before Stephen took the throne. This affects Richard and Aliena, as I’ll discuss later. Because of the lack-of-time element pervading the series, the royals slip from view. The series climaxes with dramatic revelations about a murder committed to tamper with the succession to the English throne, but none of this seems to have any consequences beyond the scaffold where the revelations come out.

Ellen: I’ve been complaining about her lack of presence in the mini-series—in this episode, she’s back. The more detailed curse, an improvement on the book as I mentioned in an earlier post, plays out in detail. In fact, maybe a bit melodramatically at the end (but fun, I have to admit) when Waleran Bigod lives out his curse literally—“will climb high to fall.”

She plays a big part in the resolution at the end, as she also does in the book, at a trial, though in a different way. (That is part of those two chapters they did not use in the mini-series—see my synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth for more details.)

Alfred: This character really suffers from the “lack-of-time” aspect that permeates the mini-series, especially when compared to the book. In the book, he leaves Aliena, moves into town, and makes a good living building homes. He does come back and beg Jack for a job at the cathedral, but only after the civil war and William Hamleigh’s exploitation of his subjects at Shiring cause an economic downturn in the area. In the mini-series, Alfred is a pathetic creature, not much to him at all.

Alfred’s death is entirely different in the book, with different ramifications. He does try to rape Aliena, but in the book, he breaks into Aliena’s home—she has not given up her home—and it is Richard who interrupts and kills him. William is sheriff of Shiring at this point, and with Waleran Bigod’s encouragement, arrests Richard, the newly installed earl of Shiring, for murder. There is no such thing as a married man raping his wife at this time in English Law, and since no annulment has been obtained, Alfred is still married to Aliena. So Richard cannot claim he was defending his sister. It is a clever twist, threatening to undo all of the victories claimed by the folks on the good-guy side of the ledger. It is Prior Philip who finds the way out of the dilemma with perhaps his best solution to a problem in the entire book. Richard will go on crusade to do penance for the sin, and receive absolution. This thwarts William’s desire to hang Richard, and it keeps the earldom in the control of Aliena’s family. In the book, Richard is not a good earl, failing to run the earldom productively. With him off on crusade, Aliena can step in and administrate the area more prosperously. All of that evolves out of the death of Alfred in the book. In the mini-series, Alfred’s death is part of one of Waleran Bigod’s evil schemes, an attempt to frame Jack for a murder that Waleran Bigod manages to indirectly commit himself.

Richard, Jack and the Wall: This is a fun scene in the book, as it is in the mini-series, and the essential shape of the storyline from the book is intact. But the lack-of-time component creeps in again. In the series, the wall is up, William’s men are driven off when they cannot penetrate the wall, and Jack slings a stone that catches William in the head. Jack’s the hero, for the wall, and for the stone. That’s fine, even fun, as far as it goes. In the book, William’s exploitive rule of Shiring has created legions of dispossessed, roaming the countryside as outlaws. Richard and Aliena decide to mobilize them, and with the battle-cry “the rightful earl,” Richard leads them on raids against William’s holdings, in almost Robin Hood style operations. Those militarized victims of William’s policies functioning as agents for Richard and Aliena regaining the earldom adds additional depth, and satisfaction, to the coming victories over William.

Richard: Richard is a huge player in this final episode, a dashing warrior taking back the earldom and striking down William’s evil sidekick. A lot of his actions are similar to what he does in the book, but not quite the same:

  • As pointed out earlier, in the book Richard goes on crusade as a penance for killing Alfred. In the series, he goes on crusade for no clear reason—something vague about serving the king. In the scene about his return, he makes a few cryptic comments about how the crusade didn’t accomplish anything, and that Jews didn’t seem to be the enemies to him. This allows the producers to take some politically-correct slaps at the crusades, and more firmly ensconce Richard on the good-guy side of the ledger, with King Stephen, almost drooling anxiously to hear about murdered Jews, on the bad-guy side.
  • Richard is awarded Shiring but must enforce possession himself; this is the same in the book. But in the book, this comes as a result of the terms of the negotiated peace for the civil war. Richard has title to the earldom, but he will not be able to get King Stephen to enforce the decision while he reigns. So Richard needs to enforce it. In the mini-series, this is part of a decision by Stephen’s ineffectual son Eustace, with Waleran Bigod pointing out the decision will be unenforceable.

Richard and Aliena Take Back Shiring: This occurs similarly, with Elizabeth bringing a smile to our faces by selling out her brutal, abusive husband. But the “lack-of-time” component creeps in again. The conspiracy to take back the castle requires more scheming, more timing, and has more precarious aspects to it in the book. In the series, Elizabeth just hands over the castle while William is away, and after Richard kills William’s brutal sidekick in a dramatic duel, Richard and Aliena simply take the castle back, and the earldom.

The Monks: In the book, Remigius never takes over running the priory. Through a different set of events (described in my synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth), he ends up begging in the streets. He comes back to the priory as a repentant monk and helps defeat Waleran Bigod in the trial scene at the end of the book, a trial that deals with issues not raised in the mini-series. There is also no scandal like the one Remigius discusses with Ellen, where Remigius admits he was “in love once” with another man, and has been fixed “so I can never sin that way again.” (Oooh… I don’t like the sound of that—ouch!)

In the book, Philip’s key ally at the priory does not have a prostitute sister; she is not a character in the book. He never becomes a spy for Waleran Bigod, and so is not involved in any plot to kill Jack.

William: The surviving (well, at least to the final scenes) villains of the mini-series, William Hamleigh and Waleran Bigod, deviate in significant ways from the book, in ways that I found much less satisfying than the story Follette told. The Hamleigh mother-son weirdness finally climaxes with William’s suffocation of his mother using a small doll. So was William a victim of his mother’s pseudo-sexual overtures, and finally snapped? Is that what makes William so evil? This seems to be the implication. He tosses his mother into the moat. This seemed ridiculous to me (and is not in the book). She’s the lady of the castle, mother of the earl. For her just to disappear, or for William to risk having someone see her body down in the moat, did not make sense to me.

Much of the rest of the William storyline remains intact; losing the earldom, becoming the sheriff, trying to use his position against our heroes—in the mini-series, Jack; in the book, Richard. As I indicated earlier, he is hanged in the book, but not until later. Simply put, I found his downfall more satisfying in the book, with Richard turning his exploited subjects against him. And instead of William dying from what was in effect a lynching, the book has him executed legally by the authorities, drawn out with the ceremony of justice, with William forced to anticpiate his demise, in front of those he had victimized, humiliated in front of them for all to see.

Waleran Bigod: I have lamented before that I enjoyed the more nuanced Waleran Bigod in the book. That sentiment has not changed. In the book, Bigod also ends the story as a repentant monk, like Remigius. In the mini-series, he is so unredeemable, so unrepentant, so despicably obsessed with his own aims, that he spits his blood into the face of Philip, who is trying to grant the obviously dying Waleran Bigod absolution for his many sins. Waleran Bigod has no redeeming qualities at all as he continues scheming murders and other manipulations right up to the end. And we learn that he was directly involved in the murders of the successors to the English throne! This is one bad guy, nearly to the point of cartoonishness. But, I will admit, it was fun to watch Ian McShane, with that silky smooth voice, that slippery slimy manner, swaggering through the trial scene with his condescending put-downs of anyone opposing him and his immediate objective of hanging Jack as soon as possible. If we’re going to have an over-the-top villain, let’s have Ian McShane play him!

The Final Scenes: The mini-series conflicts end with the trial scene; the real action starts as Jack stands with a noose around his neck. This is high drama, death-on-the-line, with both villains trying to cause a death (Jack’s) and ending up dead themselves by the end of the scene. This is a characteristic ending for this form of entertainment. The book is much subtler. The trial scene takes place many years later, with Waleran Bigod trying to discredit Philip by accusing him of being Jonathan’s father. (We leave that issue on the table in the mini-series—I thought when Tom Builder and Philip almost told Jonathan who his real father was, that they were saving it for the last episode. This was a key part of the final trial scene in the book. But they never went to the issue again.) Ellen comes to the trial with evidence of Waleran Bigod’s complicity in the death of Jack’s father, and he ends up discredited, fleeing the trial in embarrassment, eventually losing his position to become a repentant monk like Remigius. But a bigger ending is needed for a big film/television epic mini-series. “Climbing high to fall” was that big ending—the most evil character goes down last and goes down hardest.

_____________

So the concluding episode is over, all loose ends pretty well tied up. (Well, would somebody please tell Jonathan who his real father is?) The main character, the cathedral, stands tall, triumphant. I have used this blog to offer comparisons between the book and the mini-series, and made comments on what I liked and did not like. As always, I invite your comments.

I do think there are some broader points to make about this mini-series. Next Saturday I will check in with one last blog entry about “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series with what I am sure will be a shorter, more compact post!

(Synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth novel.)

*****

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth – Comments on Episode Five August 21, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Episode Five leaves us in place for the series-concluding Episode Six. The final scene in France, with Jack smiling as he gazes at a glorious church, hints at actions to come. But the inspirational tone of that scene, across the English Channel from the main action of the story, offers a wonderful dissonance with where the plot is now. Because back in England, all the villains appear to be ascendant, or at least more comfortable than our heroes. The folks on the bad side of the good-bad ledger appear to be in command. In a sense, Jack has had to flee his world to reach the inspirational image that brings an awe-inspired smile to his face. Will he be able to import that feeling back to our story in England? We suspect so! And this means the general shape of Follette’s novel remains intact, though with some big variations! For the most part, the changes create a more hyper, dramatic edge. As I’ve been doing throughout these commentaries, I’ll discuss in-synch and out-of-synch with the book, along with my own opinions, ripe for comments if you wish!

Aliena/Jack/Alfred: This plot line is largely preserved, complete with Ellen sneaking Jack out of his cell so he can make love to Aliena. The reasons Aliena feels obligated to marry Alfred also remain the same—Richard needs resources to keep fighting for King Stephen so they can remain in contention to take back the earldom of Shiring and fulfill their vow to their father. Ellen’s curse of the wedding is also right out of the book, with Ellen making crystal clear the curse of impotence. Ellen’s encouragement of Aliena to find Jack in France is also direct from Follette’s original novel.

There are a few variations worth commenting on: 1) Jack is confined to his cell in the priory because of his loud protest to the Alfred/Aliena marriage. (His opposition in the book is more quiet and passive). This change makes him a more active character, and in that way strengthens the story. 2) The food given to Jack in his cell is poisoned (not in the book) which adds a nice little dramatic edge to the expository/back-story scene as Ellen tells Jack more about his father, with the poisoned food sitting right next to him throughout the scene. We wonder as Ellen tells the story—will Jack eat this stuff? Then, just when we think he may ignore the food, his own mother insists he eat it, obviously unaware of what is in it!

The in-synch situation remains through what I considered an awkward part of the novel, maintained in the series, that Aliena somehow hides her pregnancy from Alfred, who has been unable to consummate their marriage. This leads to the contrived coincidence of her giving birth in the middle of the cathedral collapse. Awkward in the book—still awkward in the series. This does lead to a similar result, though in the book Alfred leaves Aliena; Aliena is not ordered to leave by Alfred.

Prior Philip: Just as his storyline looked like it would remain almost entirely in synch with the book, we go on a huge detour at the end, when Philip is removed as prior. (He never loses that position in the book.) This sets up some wonderful possibilities, putting Philip in a serious underdog position. I like the potential here. Even those of us who know the book will be guessing about a number of directions this could go.

Waleran Bigod: My goodness, he gets more evil and twisted as we go. His self-flagellation has now graduated to self-mutilation. Does this make him sympathetic because we know he feels remorse for the horrible things he keeps doing? No. It makes him look more twisted, and self-obsessed at the expense of others. In this episode, he commissions the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury by Regan Hamleigh! And it almost works for him, though those of us who know history, and know the book, suspected that Waleran Bigod would not be able to keep this position.

He also gets a little of his own back when William Hamleigh holds a sword to his throat, insisting the bishop make sure that William is confirmed as earl of Shiring. The Hamleighs are in charge this time. I wonder if the series producers are trying to reposition Waleran Bigod more toward his characterization in the book, as we move toward the ending. We’ll see about that next week.

I still like Waleran Bigod as the more nuanced character he was in the book. But I have to admit that this plot-line leads to one of my favorite individual scenes of the whole mini-series—the Regan Hamleigh murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As the scene starts out, we think Regan Hamleigh is going to betray Waleran Bigod. But just when it looks like she will complete the betrayal, she follows through with the deed, complete with a well-placed scream. Great dramatic television!

A Mysterious Ring: I have to admit I missed this earlier. It’s not in the book. I recall the early incidents—a ring stolen from Jack, in the possession of Martha, who hides it behind a stone in a wall. But this ring is obviously going to have a dramatic role in the final scenes. The set-up has been effective. The dramatic question has been posed—how is this ring going to figure in the final revelations on the secret involved with the death of Jack’s father?

Stephen and the Royals: Stephen remains on the bad-guy side of the ledger, though not as a major player in this part of the story (similar to the low profile of the royals in the book). He seems to have become a little demented, saying he now talks directly to God. We also see Maud/Matilda briefly, training her son Henry to take the crown, setting up the future resolution of the story.

William and Regan: Still the twisted implied-incest relationship… Still my least favorite variation on the story in the original book.

A few other isolated comments on this week’s episode:
• They added a dual marriage scene, reminiscent of the dual birth scene in episode one, with the Alfred/Aliena and William/Elizabeth marriages, and wedding nights, juxtaposed. This is effective story-telling, important for later developments, showing the two troubled matches getting off to horrible starts. These relationships will have consequences, so this is important set-up material offered in a creative, intriguing way.
• Ellen in the mini-series is more clearly anti-church than in the book. In the book, she does become hostile to the church at times, but almost always as a reaction to church actions that affect her—pertaining to her relationship with Tom Builder earlier, and pertaining to the relationship of her son Jack and Aliena later. In the mini-series, she is hostile to the church right away, and with more venom. It is ironic that her beloved son is developing into a potential designer/builder of glorious churches.
• I thought for a moment Philip would tell Jonathan that Tom Builder was his father, spilling the beans earlier than in the book (as it looked like Tom Builder himself was going to do during the previous episode). But though Philip walks Jonathan right up to it, he stops short, just saying that Tom Builder knew his mother.

______________

I expect a lot of surprises next week, and a long post. For one thing, even though this will be a two hour concluding episode, it doesn’t seem possible they will get to all the story that is left in The Pillars of the Earth. It looks to me like we are about up to Chapter Twelve, of eighteen chapters. That’s two thirds of the book. But we have completed three fourths of the mini-series. (See my synopsis of the novel at my website.) This will give me a lot to comment about next week, not just about what the mini-series producers include, but what they condense or leave out. Come and stop by at this blog next Saturday!

(Synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth novel.)

*****

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth – Comments on Episode Four August 14, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Not such an on-the-edge cliffhanger for this episode. But let’s be honest—it would have been hard to top last week’s intense ending. Immediately, within the first five minutes, the cliffhanger elements resolve: 1) Philip’s brother Francis gets the rope from around Philip’s neck just in time, and 2) Jack finds his way out of the pile of corpses. That allowed us to move quickly into this week’s drama.

Where did they leave us this week? Without Tom Builder. Just as in the book, Tom Builder dies in the raid on the Kingsbridge Fleece Fair. This was as much a shock in the book as it was in the mini-series, because it is hard to imagine Kingsbridge Cathedral without Tom Builder. I wondered if the mini-series producers would decide to keep him around longer. But Tom Builder himself says the cathedral would not be finished until he had passed on. In The Pillars of the Earth, the cathedral is the main character that cannot die; the human Tom Builder is the more expendable character.

We’re also left with a ruined Kingsbridge village, including Aliena’s fortune in wool, destroyed in the fire, and with an ongoing civil war rendering loyalties flexible and allowing bullies to enforce their will without limitations, bullies like William “my-market-or-no-market” Hamleigh. The good guys seem prostrate and defeated. Not really a cliff-hanger—more like already gone over the cliff and landed hard on craggy rocks.

For this week, the true cliff-hangers may have been offered in the previews of next week’s episode. Aliena marrying Alfred? Kingsbridge church collapsing? William declared the earl of Shiring? Yipes; given the events of this week’s episodes, we are left wondering. (All right, if you know the book, you know how we get to those points—that is, if they follow the book.)

So to continue the basic pattern of these commentaries, I’ll again discuss how the series is in synch or out of synch with the book, and how I think it works with the story:

Waleran Bigod and the Hamleighs. This is well out of synch with the book. Waleran Bigod remains the key evil character of the book, and I do not expect that to change. He expresses his clear ambition to gain the highest position in the Church, the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, and implies he does not care how this is accomplished. He instigates the attack on Kingsbridge; in the book, this is a William of Hamleigh operation. Bigod manipulates a prisoner exchange in a way that gets an innocent farm-boy hostage killed—there is no such hostage exchange in the book. He is almost completely unredeemable. The only moment that hints of remorse is when he puts spikes in his shoes to atone for the death of the innocent boy. But this is a private moment, all too easy; it isn’t much to give him any sympathetic qualities.

William of Hamleigh remains more of a pawn than an actor for his own purposes. We see him showing an attraction to a pretty young twelve year old girl (she doesn’t look twelve, but she’ll have to play older later in the story). In this scene, he almost seems like a courtly gentleman until his mother gives him a disapproving look. This storyline is in the book, but it’s just a hint now, so we’ll wait to see where they take it. I suspect there will be some variation, as we have the mother’s weird obsession with her son, present in the series and not in the book, as a factor to deal with.

Jack and Aliena. This largely synchs up with the book in what I believe are effective ways. We get a hint of their courtship in the book in the scene where Jack plays with the yarn, and in a second scene where he tells stories to her and demonstrates his ability to read. That scene ends with Jack getting familiar in a way that reminds Aliena of her rape by William. I think this is more effective than in the book, where Aliena’s rejection of Jack is vague. The series tracks more logically. And it does leave us in the same place as in the book—Jack is rejected, but we know there is something between these two, and we want them to get together.

Jack and Alfred. This also synchs up with the book, but with some different details that I do not believe track as well as in the original novel. In the book, Alfred taunts Jack about his criminal father, executed on the gallows. This leads to a fight that causes major damages to the cathedral. In the mini-series, Alfred’s vandalism of Jack’s work on the church causes the fight. It is hard to believe Alfred would have been able to defend his actions, and that his vandalism wouldn’t have even been considered in the aftermath of the fight. But we do end up with the “brothers” (only because they share Tom Builder as a father figure) at odds with each other, as they are in the book.

Maud/Matilda, Philip and the Kingsbridge Market License. This gets back in synch now that Maud/Matilda takes the power of the throne. (The series takes major liberties with history here. We have a young Henry II at her side, not present in the book and I don’t believe present in England at this point. She also implies she has just taken the title of “empress.” She had that title years before, as a result of her previous marriage to the now deceased Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.) She grants Philip the market license, but then charges him an exorbitant fee! This is straight from the book and the history. When Maud/Matilda ruled briefly during the civil war, she was known for exploiting her subjects for all the money she could squeeze from them. Here, we are in complete synch with the book, with Philip going to Aliena for next year’s wool payment this year in order to pay the market license fee. In the book, Aliena recalls Philip’s assistance to her at the beginning of her business when she was struggling, and is happy to help him. Of course, this puts everything she owns into that wool, setting up devastating consequences of the raid for Aliena, and potentially for her brother Richard as well.

Aliena and William. In the book, William is obsessed with Aliena—he stalks her and seems unable to find satisfaction with any other woman. Having him call her a witch and trying to burn her seemed to me to be sadism without clear motivation. In the book, Aliena catches on fire trying to save her wool, as she desperately tries to prevent her entire fortune going up in flames; Jack saves her. In the mini-series, Alfred saves her. He also stalks her earlier, alluding more to William’s behavior in the book. The series in this area seems muddled to me—the book is clearer.

Ellen. I remain disappointed with the treatment of this character in “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series. Her relationship with Tom Builder is relegated to near insignificance, when in the book, it is an important part of the early story. Her appearances seem awkward because of her exclusion from much of the story. Jack returns to Kingsbridge before he finds his mother and tells her he is alive? She has to come into town to see him? Later in the episode, Ellen asks Jack some weird questions we cannot imagine a normal mother discussing with her son. Is she taking lessons from William of Hamleigh’s mother? In the confrontation with Philip about Jack joining the monastery as a monk, she mouths some anti-organized religion ideas that seem out of place in the 12th Century, and hint of story-telling agenda. I stand by my episode one comments, that the “witch” storyline would paint the producers into a corner. I think this has proven true. But I also think they have a way out, and will use it soon, to bring Ellen back into the mainstream of the story. She is a much stronger character, more nuanced and multi-dimensional, more powerful, in the book.

Tom Builder and His Son Jonathan. I loved these scenes between Tom Builder and Jonathan just before the raid, scenes invented for the mini-series that offered some real poignant and even suspenseful moments for their relationship. First, as Tom Builder pulls his son away from a bear-dog fight, he tells his son that it isn’t so bad for the bear or the dogs to die with honor fighting for something worth defending. (This turns out to be prophetic, though it would have been stronger if Tom had died while more actively fighting Willliam Hamleigh.) Then, Tom is about to tell Jonathan what their relationship really is. We are hanging on his words. Frankly, I was thinking of what a huge departure this would be from the book, and that this would have major significance for later plot occurrences. Then William shows up. No, Jonathan would not learn this secret—not yet, anyway. This was great story-telling!

Prior Philip and Jack. Prior Philip’s maneuvers to bring Jack into the church are completely in synch with the novel. The monk ceremony brings us into this development powerfully—it is a great scene in the miniseries as it shows us the profound nature of Jack’s new commitment, and has us wondering how this will affect his future, particularly with respect to Aliena.

___________________

So the series has moved much more in synch with the book, with the two major exceptions of the character development of Waleran Bigod and Ellen. And the preview of next week’s episode indicates to me we will remain largely in synch. That’s good news, because this is a great story!

 I’ll be back with another “The Pillars of the Earth” post next Saturday. I have an unusual guest blog appearance set for this coming Wednesday; I am still working out the details. No, it’s not “The Pillars of the Earth” related in any way…

(Synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth novel.)

*****

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth – Comments on Episode Two July 31, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Sometimes, you just gotta love television. Ending a fairly tame, you could even say tepid episode, with a king in convulsions, foaming at the mouth, blood dripping from a hallucination’s head… that’s what you do when you have the resources of a visual medium, and you want to bring people back for next week’s episode.

Leaving aside the end-of-the-episode histrionics, what were the high points and low points of “The Pillars of the Earth” episode this week, and does anyone care if they are staying close to the book? (I do—when things work especially well, and when things don’t work well at all.)

  • High Point/Improvement: The public execution scene of the former earl of Shiring (played by Donald Sutherland) was more dramatic than his fate in the book, where he just fades into death after a bittersweet meeting with his children in prison. The exchange between Aliena and the king felt contrived, but overall, this scene took advantage of the visual opportunities of television.
  • Low Point: Yes, they’re continuing the creepy, incestuous scenes between William of Hamleigh and his mother. I’ve commented on this previously—I just don’t think this is necessary. It seems unsettling for no real discernable purpose. Actually, I can think of a purpose, but it involves psychoanalyzing the writers and producers, in fact, a whole general class of writers and producers, so I’ll save that for later.
  • High Point: Right out of the book—the monks surround the Shiring quarry with chants and candles and take possession of the quarry in a beautiful looking and sounding scene.

But maybe the biggest overall divergence from the book is the emergence of Jack as a key character even now in the story, when he is still not much more than a boy:

  • Jack duels Walter (William’s brutal sidekick) to try to take possession of the quarry. This scene doesn’t exist in the book, and could have lifted right out of the mini-series, but serves to make Jack a key participant in the story.
  • A vision of King Stephen’s implies that Jack, like his father, could have information and influence over who has the just claim to the English throne, implying Jack could be some kind of kingmaker (or king-breaker).
  • Jack’s sculpture of St. Adolphus climaxes the successful rallying of the townspeople to show King Stephen the progress on the cathedral at Kingsbridge. The sculpture also seems to throw King Stephen into a hallucinating, foaming-at-the-mouth fit. (In the book, the king is not involved in this scene. Waleran Bigod brings the kings’s brother, an influential bishop, to the cathedral. This is a character not introduced into the mini-series.)
  • Aliena and Jack have more contacts, much earlier. (In the book at this point, Jack admires Aliena from afar, who is barely aware of his existence.)
  • In the coming attractions, Jack’s status as a key player seems elevated further as we see a clip of King Stephen demanding “that red-haired boy’s” death.

Knowing the book, I am aware some key scenes are coming up, and I am curious to see how they will be addressed in the next few episodes:

  • How will we bring Ellen back into this? She’s relegated to hiding in the woods for occasional hot trysts with Tom Builder, and rightly figures she will have trouble coming back, even if she and Tom are married.
  • Richard’s development trails behind right now—he should have been at the Battle of Lincoln with William of Hamleigh and King Stephen. Instead, Stephen finds out about the battle while he’s at Kingsbridge. (Finding out about the defeat of his forces also leads to his fit at the end of the episode.)

My dominant impression? I am enjoying this production of one of the most successful historical novels of the last two decades. But I also find myself hoping they don’t go too much farther off the book.

See you next week!

***** 

(Synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth novel.)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth – Comments on Episode One July 24, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, Ken Follette, television commentary, The Pillars of the Earth, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Viewers of “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series: consider that the lines have been drawn—the good versus the bad—immediately, sharply, and more quickly and decisively than in The Pillars of the Earth novel. Prior Philip, Tom Builder, Ellen, Jack, Aliena and her brother Richard all line up on the good side of the ledger. Waleran Bigod, William Hamleigh and his parents, Remigius, and Alfred (Tom Builder’s son) line up on the bad side. Also, put Maud/Matilda and her faction on the good side of that ledger, and Stephen on the bad one. The lines are drawn for the remaining episodes, with conflict and subconflicts bubbling among and between these characters. The stage is set for six more hours of rollicking entertainment. 

The first episode appears to be largely faithful to the novel (see my synopsis of The Pillars of the Earth at my website), with some notable exceptions which I will discuss below. It appeared to me that the changes were made for the obvious aims of either sharpening conflicts, heightening suspense, and/or increasing visual interest. (In my opinion, most of these changes worked well.)

 Notes on changes to the novel:

  • The old prior of Kingsbridge confesses his complicity in the death of an innocent man to Philip instead of Remigius. I suspect this will have significant implications for the story down the line. Philip does not have this information in the novel.
  • Agnes gives birth to her son in the forest at the same time Maud/Matilda gives birth to her son Henry at or close to the court of Henry I, with vivid cross-cutting between the birth scenes. (In fact, Henry was born in France in 1133, five years before this scene is set.)
  • The scene with Tom Builder abandoning his just-born son has some slight differences which I found very effective. Tom Builder appears to believe the boy will join his mother in Heaven, and figures that the cold night will be an easier death than slow starvation with his destitute family; Tom figures the baby boy will drift off to sleep, and off to Heaven. This emphasizes how religious faith dominated lives during this period of history, and makes Tom a little more sympathetic for what seems to be a callous, heinous act.
  • Ellen seems drawn to Tom Builder, and seeks him out, because he is a master builder, and she believes her son could excel in that discipline with the right tutelage.
  • Ellen and Jack also do not jump into a quick marriage (as they do in the novel), right after Agnes dies giving birth. This is another good choice, since Tom is supposed to be a sympathetic character, and marrying another woman twenty-four hours after his wife dies seems a cold deed, though in the novel it is understandable, given the desperate circumstances.
  • Waleran Bigod presents a problem. He is supposed to be just a little older than Philip. But a much older actor, the great Ian McShane, plays him. This makes Bigod seem to be an aging figure, already close to power.
  • In the novel, Waleran Bigod starts off almost as if he might be an ally of Philip’s, and we see him as a schemer, but aren’t sure on which side of the good/bad ledger he will settle. In the mini-series, his basic nature is apparent immediately. There is a clear implication that he poisons the presiding bishop, clearing the way for his succession to the bishop’s post, showing his nature clearly and immediately.
  • The biggest departure from the plot in the first episode, and the one that I think works the least effectively, is the accusation that Ellen is a witch. She seems to delight in this, antagonizing the powers-that-be, even when on the verge of execution. She stabs Waleran Bigod with a smuggled weapon and flees the priory, all in apparent collaboration with Prior Philip (which is at odds with his pious nature). This line of plot development tracks roughly, and could provide problems later in the mini-series. Peeing in front of the bishop, then stabbing him, are not actions that can be easily excused. This will make it difficult for Ellen to return to the priory with any credibility. It is not realistic that such actions will be forgiven.
  • There is also more dramatic information given about the secret surrounding Jack’s father’s death, with flashbacks dramatizing the circumstances and bringing in this element in more quickly and with more intensity than in the novel. Also, the curse Ellen delivers at Jack’s father’s execution, to “a knight, a monk and a priest,”—unidentified in the mini-series, as well as in the novel, heightening the mystery—is more specific for each one, making the curse more dramatic and intriguing. There is nothing like a secret, and an ominous devastating prophecy for the future for unknown parties, to drive interest. I found this deviation to be perhaps the most effective adjustment to the story.
  • In a brief scene, there is a weird implication of some sort of incestuous obsession between William Hamleigh and his mother. This is downright creepy, and not necessary. William and his parents are evil enough without this weirdness thrown in.

On the history, the mini-series is clearly unsympathetic to Stephen, more sympathetic to Maud/Matilda. Stephen is depicted as an insincere conniver, usurping a position he has previously promised not to claim. Follette’s handling of the history, it seems to me, was more balanced between these two contenders. There is also an implication in the mini-series that the birth Maud/Matilda’s son Henry motivated Henry I to name Maud/Matilda as his heir. In fact, he had obtained a commitment to Maud from his barons a decade earlier, before she even married her son Henry’s father, Geoffrey Plantagenet.

I welcome comments from any readers more familiar with the history (an on anything else on “The Pillars of the Earth” mini-series).

I’ll be back commenting on Episode Two next Saturday.

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (deluxe edition/Oprah’s Book Club)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)

The Pillars of the Earth (hardcover)