was a time of poorly planned military adventurism, punitive taxation, and talentless
heads of state demanding unquestioned obedience. Fortunately, our times are nothing like
England circa 1327, except for those last three points. The Builders have erected the cathedral at
Kingsbridge, but their descendants have fallen on hard times in the sequel to
Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. The priory runs the town—badly—and the cruel
French queen sitting on the British throne nurses a mysterious grudge against
Kingsbridge residents in the four-part World Without End (promo
premieres on the Reelz Channel this Wednesday.
fictional Kingsbridge has both a priory and a convent. The former controls the city charter but the
latter was entrusted with the purse strings.
The nuns are progressive, supporting modern medicine and dignified
conditions for the common people. The
brothers are backward fear-mongers, who insist on smothering sick patients with
dung. People assume Brother Godwyn is a
progressive, by virtue of his youth, but when he is elected prior, he proves to
be an exceptionally ruthless Luddite.
one might expect, Kingsbridge also has a bridge. Unfortunately, it has become too narrow to facilitate
traffic to the Fleece Fair, the town’s most important commercial event of the
year. The priory naturally looks to the
knuckle-dragging Elfric to build a similarly inadequate replacement, but the
commercial guild hires his innovative apprentice, Merthin, the disgraced son of
the former Earl, violently purged by the Queen’s new tax collector, Roland.
taxes will be high too, even by the standards 2012 America. Queen Isabella holds Kingsbridge in
particularly low regard, partly because Sir Thomas Langley found sanctuary
there, becoming a monk well regarded by both his brothers and the
guildsmen. Circumstantial evidence
suggests he also murdered King Edward II in prison, on Isabella’s orders. He is not talking about his past, but his
presence remains embarrassing to certain people in power.
arrival ignites all the scandals that will follow in Kingsbridge. Merthin will pursue his star-crossed love of
Caris, while her devious kinsman Petranilla schemes to protect her sociopathic
son Godwyn. Meanwhile, the Black Death
and the Hundred Years War are wrecking a grim toll on the British, particularly
prestigious period piece co-executive produced by Ridley and the late Tony
Scott, World is a throwback to the
1980’s style cast-of-dozens miniseries.
Sometimes it works on that level, but it is a maddeningly slow
starter. The production works best when
focusing on the mystery surrounding the murder of Edward II and Isabella’s subsequent
amongst the sprawling ensemble, Ben Chaplin fares better than most as intense
Langley. He just looks like a man with a
history. Similarly, longtime MI-5 veteran Peter Firth knows how to
chew the scenery as Roland, the somewhat reluctant Nottingham of Kingsbridge. Indeed, his character has one of the richest
development arcs of the series. Also,
look for 24 regular Carlo Rota (a.k.a.
Morris O’Brien) as Caris’s not so fast on the uptake father, Edmund. In fact, he is pretty convincing when facing
the rough justice of the royal court.
as the on-again-off-again lovers, Tom Weston-Jones (so appealingly hardnosed in
BBC America’s Copper) and Charlotte
Riley are rather colorless. Cynthia
Nixon is instantly unlikable as Petranilla.
Nonetheless, her vampy character is so anachronistic and blatantly on
the make, it is hard to buy into her intellectually and Nixon never sells her
on an emotional level. Miranda
Richardson tries to give it all high tone when appearing as Mother Cecilia, a
sort of a Fourteenth Century Iron Lady, but World’s
melodramatic inclinations are insurmountable.
there is one thing that comes out loud and clear throughout End it is Follett’s antipathy for the Church. Aside from Langley and his closest cronies,
the brothers are uniformly depicted as superstitious misogynists. Yes, there are plenty of documented excesses
in its history, but this was also a time when the Church was single handedly
preserving the wisdom of ancient western civilization. Frankly, World’s
anti-clerical bent gets intrusively heavy-handed.
is something engaging about a big juicy costume drama epic, especially when it
has enough time to sufficiently unfold every intrigue and double-cross. Director
Michael Caton-Jones (whose credits include Scandal
and Rob Roy) clearly understands
that appeal. However, the inconsistent cast
and didactic point-scoring quickly become distracting. Not really recommended for audiences beyond
Follett’s diehard readers, World Without
End airs on Reelz Channel, beginning this Wednesday (10/17).
(Photo: Copyright TANDEM COMMUNICATIONS)
Labels: Ken Follett, Michael Caton-Jones, ReelzChannel