Follett's 'The Pillars of the Earth' on Starz twinkles
By Maria Sciullo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's scant subtlety in "The Pillars of the Earth": Swords flash and children dash in the streets to avoid getting run over by sneering horsemen. People play a bold brand of mud-flinging politics that, seeing as this is 12th-century England, might actually involve real mud.
It's "Masterpiece Theater" meets "Dallas," and it is especially entertaining.
'The Pillars of the Earth'
When: 10 tonight and Fridays through Aug. 27.
Starring: Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Sarah Parish.
The eight-hour miniseries is another foray by the Starz cable network into the sort of big-budget original programming subscribers expect from HBO and Showtime. There are serious actors at work here, some chewing scenery, some not. "Pillars" presents the core of Ken Follett's 1,000-page best-selling book over six episodes, and given all the little twists and turns in plot, perhaps eight hours wasn't enough.
In brief: King Henry is in mourning after learning that a ship carrying his son has gone down in flames off the coast. He decides his daughter, Maud, will be next in line to rule, which doesn't sit well with his nephew, Stephen.
King Henry dies. Backed by the Catholic Church and the scheming Bishop, Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane, positively glowing with evil), Stephen wrests control of the kingdom from Maud, who conveniently happens to be off giving birth to a son at the time. Women.
It doesn't take long for payback. The late King's friend, Bartholomew, Earl of Shiring (Donald Sutherland) is imprisoned, and his children, Aliena and Richard, are left to fight off the advances of creepy William Hamleigh and his even creepier mother, the power-driven Regan (Sarah Parish).
These are the bad guys. The good souls are very good indeed, including Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, who dreams of creating a cathedral; Natalia Worner as Ellen, an earth mother to all; and Eddie Redmayne as her artistic son, Jack. At the spiritual center of the story is Prior Philip, played with understated strength by Matthew Macfadyen.
Mr. Redmayne, who won a best featured actor Tony Award this year for "Red," has practically nothing to say in the early going but becomes central to the plot in later episodes.
Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, "Pillars" delivers something rare: summer television entertainment that requires viewers to pay attention to what these attractive people are saying. Sure, there's some gratuitous violence and sex, but on pay cable, that's a given. Starz is trying to go serious with this, and although it hasn't built a cathedral, this is a good first step.
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478.