Blu-ray review: “The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)

“The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)


Eight Episodes

Written by: John Pielmeier based on the book by Ken Follett

Directed by: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Featuring: Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfayden, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell and Sarah Parish

Lord Stephen: “There’s Gloucester.”

Archbishop: “The king’s bastard? He will never inherit.”

Lord Stephen: “There’s the king’s legitimate daughter, Maud.”

Archbishop: “A child. And female.”

Lord Stephen: “Then, I suppose, there’s me. But I’m only the king’s nephew.”

Critical Commentary

“The Pillars of the Earth” is a historical drama television series based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name. The TV adaptation, which aired in 2010, consists of eight episodes and is set in 12th-century England during a tumultuous period known as The Anarchy. As an AI language model, I don’t have personal opinions, but I can provide you with an overview of the show’s reception and general consensus.

The TV series received a generally positive response from viewers and critics alike. It managed to capture the epic scope and intricate storytelling of the novel, although some deviations from the source material were noted. Here are some key aspects of the show:

  • Acting: The cast features notable actors like Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Redmayne, and Hayley Atwell, who deliver strong performances. Their portrayals bring depth and authenticity to the characters, making them compelling and engaging.
  • Production Design: “The Pillars of the Earth” boasts impressive production values, with lavish sets and detailed costumes that transport viewers back to medieval England. The show effectively recreates the period’s atmosphere, enhancing the immersion and authenticity of the narrative.
  • Storytelling: The series weaves a complex web of political intrigue, religious conflict, and personal drama. It explores themes of power, ambition, love, and betrayal against the backdrop of the construction of a cathedral. The plot is filled with twists and turns, keeping viewers engaged and invested in the characters’ fates.
  • Faithfulness to the Novel: While some changes were made to the storyline and certain characters, overall, the adaptation stays true to the spirit of Ken Follett’s novel. It captures the grandeur and epic nature of the source material, even though some plot elements were necessarily condensed or simplified for the TV format.
  • Pacing: Some viewers felt that the show’s pacing was occasionally uneven. Given the vast scope of the novel, some plotlines may feel rushed or underdeveloped, while others receive more attention. However, the engaging story and strong performances generally outweighed any pacing concerns.
  • Cinematography and Direction: The series features beautiful cinematography that captures the grandeur of the medieval landscape. The direction effectively conveys the scale and magnitude of the events, highlighting both the intimate moments and the larger historical context.
  • Character Development: One of the strengths of the series is its focus on character development. The main characters are given depth and complexity, allowing viewers to become emotionally invested in their journeys. Their personal struggles, relationships, and growth throughout the series add depth and nuance to the narrative.
  • Historical Context: The show successfully immerses viewers in the historical context of 12th-century England, exploring the religious, political, and social dynamics of the time. It touches upon real-life historical events and societal issues, giving the narrative a sense of authenticity and depth.
  • Themes and Messages: “The Pillars of the Earth” delves into various themes, including the clash between church and state, the pursuit of power, the consequences of personal ambition, and the enduring human spirit. It raises questions about faith, morality, and the cost of progress, making it not only an engaging drama but also a thought-provoking series.
  • Length and Adaptation Challenges: Some viewers felt that the series could have benefited from a longer runtime or additional episodes to fully explore the intricacies of the novel. Adapting such a sprawling story with numerous characters and plotlines is undoubtedly challenging, and while the TV series does an admirable job, certain elements may feel rushed or condensed.
  • Soundtrack: The series features a well-composed and atmospheric soundtrack that enhances the viewing experience. The music effectively sets the tone for different scenes, whether it’s a moment of tension, romance, or triumph. It adds another layer of emotional depth to the storytelling.
  • Political Intrigue: The series skilfully portrays the political machinations and power struggles of the time. It explores the complex relationships between nobles, clergy, and common people, highlighting the intricate web of alliances and betrayals. The political elements provide a compelling backdrop for the characters’ personal journeys.
  • Strong Female Characters: “The Pillars of the Earth” showcases a range of strong and multidimensional female characters who defy the societal constraints of their time. They are portrayed as resilient, intelligent, and capable of challenging the status quo. Their stories add an empowering and feminist dimension to the series.
  • Visual Effects: The show incorporates impressive visual effects, particularly in its depiction of the construction of the cathedral. The attention to detail and the seamless integration of CGI elements create a visually stunning representation of the architectural endeavour, emphasizing its significance in the story.
  • Emotional Impact: The series effectively evokes a range of emotions, from joy and hope to despair and heartbreak. The struggles and triumphs of the characters resonate with viewers, creating an emotional connection that keeps them engaged throughout the series. It explores the human condition and the resilience of the human spirit.
  • Accessibility to Non-readers: For those who haven’t read the novel, the TV series offers an accessible way to experience the story. It condenses the narrative and streamlines the plotlines, making it easier for viewers to follow the story and engage with the characters.
  • Legacy and Popularity: “The Pillars of the Earth” has garnered a dedicated fan base over the years. Its popularity has led to a sequel miniseries called “World Without End” and has contributed to the enduring success of Ken Follett’s novels.
  • Ensemble Cast: The series benefits from a talented ensemble cast, with actors who bring their characters to life with depth and authenticity. The chemistry between the actors adds to the believability of the relationships portrayed on screen.
  • Epic Scope: “The Pillars of the Earth” encompasses a wide range of storylines and perspectives, providing a panoramic view of the era. It interweaves the lives of characters from different social classes, showcasing the impact of their actions on the larger historical tapestry.
  • Production Values: The attention to detail in the production design extends beyond sets and costumes. The show effectively captures the grittiness and brutality of the time period, portraying the harsh realities of life in medieval England.
  • Timely Themes: Despite being set in the past, “The Pillars of the Earth” touches upon themes that remain relevant today. It explores issues of corruption, the abuse of power, and the struggle for justice, offering insights that resonate with contemporary audiences.
  • Balance of Genres: The series successfully blends elements of historical fiction, political drama, romance, and even some thrilling moments. This multi-genre approach adds variety and keeps viewers engaged, as different aspects of the story are explored.
  • Engaging Villains: “The Pillars of the Earth” introduces compelling antagonists who add tension and conflict to the narrative. These complex villains are not simply one-dimensional evildoers but have their own motivations and backstories, making them intriguing characters in their own right.
  • Timeless Storytelling: While the series is set in the 12th century, its core themes and character-driven storytelling have a timeless quality. It explores universal aspects of the human experience, such as love, sacrifice, and the pursuit of dreams, making it relatable to audiences across different eras.
  • Historical Education: The series offers a glimpse into the historical events and societal dynamics of 12th-century England. It can serve as an educational tool, sparking curiosity and inspiring viewers to delve further into the history of the period.

“The Pillars of the Earth” is widely regarded as a solid historical drama series that successfully brings Ken Follett’s beloved novel to life. If you enjoy medieval settings, intricate storytelling, and political dramas, it is likely to be an enjoyable watch.

Technical Commentary


“The Pillars of the Earth” arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080i, 1.78:1 high definition transfer; please note that the information on the back of the box incorrectly lists 1080p. Though it occasionally appears slightly glossy, “Pillars” delivers a nearly faultless high definition image that’s overflowing with exquisite detailing that’s evident in nearly every single frame. Sony’s transfer captures the subtlest of nuances on the sometimes frayed or muddied period garments, faces, chain mail armor, muddy dirt, gravely roads, stone façades, straw roofs, wooden accents, or any other number of objects seen throughout the series.


“The Pillars of the Earth” builds its story through a wonderful DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This is a superb presentation from beginning to end that passes every technical test. Though a made-for-television miniseries, “The Pillars of the Earth” features a grand score that’s epic in both feel and presentation and is expertly handled by Sony’s DTS track. It delivers a rich cinematic texture in every episode, remaining clean and accurate while playing with a grandiose and elegantly sweeping sensation that adds quite a bit to the overall “Pillars” experience.

Special Features

  • The Making of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’
  • Visual Effects Progression
  • Main Titles Progression 

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