Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Drawn to The Pillars of the Earth

It is a rare thing to bump into a TV series that really hooks you and makes you care for the characters in the way that the mini series The Pillars of the Earth does. Each new tragedy that befalls one of the "good guys" hurts you almost personally and you hope that the bad guys will get what they deserve, even when you know that that's not always what happens.

The historical details may not be quite correct in this series, but - then again - I cannot name any other series that is any better in this regard. The very fact that Follett's original work is categorised as historical fiction excuses the series from some pressure when if comes to demands of historical accuracy, of course, as does the fact that the town that the story centres around is entirely fictional. Rather than the historical events, the series pulls the viewers attention to the individuals who struggle to live their lives in the midst of war, each with their own dreams and hopes. It is thus not very surprising that one finds some very good actors amongst the cast, Ian McShane naturally topmost of them all.

I started watching the first episode without knowing that the series was based on a novel by Ken Follett. Then, as I was watching it, I suddenly remembered that I had, in fact, read the book in my mid-to-late teens. At the time, the novel had made little impression on me and I could only remember some main events and details of what was to come. As such, the mini series provided me with a fresher experience than the other great series that's running at the moment, Game of Thrones, the plot of which is in fresher memory from the books.

However, it is not only the fresher experience that draws me to The Pillars of the Earth. There's also something else that I cannot quite explain. The world depicted in the series feels more real and more ruthless than the world of many other historical fiction/fantasy series, including that of Game of Thrones. It is perhaps the very depiction of small town life with dirt streets and the small but important struggles of the monks trying to get their new cathedral built in the midst of civil wars that draws me to the drama. The traditional juxtaposition of good, honest men and selfish, power-hungry individuals may be one of the oldest tricks in the trade, but it is also very well achieved here and certainly worth one's time.