5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
interesting, but essentially a crude and lurid melodrama,
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This review is from: The Pillars of the Earth [DVD]  (DVD)
As a history buff with an particular fascination with the Gothic era, I had high hopes for this mini-series. It promised not only the court intrigue and a particular view into an alien age, but at its core it was about the achievement of a new art from: the Cathedrals that required the development of fundamental innovations in stonework, in structural engineering, and in the mobilization of communities, sometimes for centuries. Instead, I found a film that drowned in graphic sex, horrendous violence, and two-dimensional characters. It is full of ridiculous stereotypes about the Medieval era, though there are some redeeming features. I say this less as a pedant than with disappointment that I could not become absorbed in a narrative with a sense of awe and longing to know more. Alas, with its lurid details and melodramatic plot lines, I could not suspend my disbelief. Even my high school daughter was disgusted at its lack of subtlety and finesse. This is second rate.
The plot is complicated, involving a sunken ship, secrets later uncovered because of a stolen ring, a coup that initiates a generation of civil war, and unscrupulous courtiers, both religious and secular. Lower down, there is a master mason with a vision, who finds a situation in a village with an extraordinary Prior, who is not only going to build an early Gothic Cathedral, but revive the economy of an entire region. Of course, this pits the Prior - a pious, honorable, good, and competent man - against the interests of aggressively evil rivals. Obstacles to the Cathedral are thrown up, there is lots of violence and lust, but all's well that ends well in spite of many tragic injustices.
There are some extremely good actors in this. Unfortunately, the director largely squanders their talents. Some of it is indeed moving, such as the love between the humble mason and the disgraced princess, but most of it fits into silly film conventions, like the princess' brother becoming a crusader to redeem himself over the 20 years, taking the most brutal vengeance when the time comes, or the working out of prophesies.
If you want a kind of slashing swashbuckler with good v. evil, etc., this is passable. I wanted much more than this, which I believe it could have been. Not recommended.