Having read the best-selling 2007 novel by Ken Follett, I cannot wait to see this epic 8 part television adaptation which is being broadcast on Channel 4 from 12th January 2013. It is the sequel to 1989’s The Pillars of the Earth and is Set during the reign of King Edward III in the same fictional town as Pillars of the Earth — Kingsbridge. It features the descendants of some Pillars characters 157 years later. The story takes place during the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death. The story begins in the year 1327. Four children — Merthin, Caris, Gwenda, and Merthin’s brother Ralph — head into the woods on All Hallows Day where they witness two men-at-arms killed in self-defence by Sir Thomas Langley, aided by Ralph. The children then flee, with the exception of Merthin, who helps the wounded Sir Thomas bury a letter with instructions to dig up and deliver it if and when Sir Thomas should die. After this Sir Thomas flees to Kingsbridge and seeks refuge in the monastery and becomes a Benedictine monk, while the four children swear never to speak of what they saw. Ten years later a section of the vault of the Kingsbridge Cathedral collapses Merthin, now an apprentice carpenter, shows his genius by developing a cheaper means of repair than his master. Ralph, now a squire to Earl Roland of Shiring, provokes a fight and has his nose broken by a handsome peasant from Gwenda’s village named Wulfric, for whom Gwenda has a hopeless infatuation. Gwenda is sold for a cow by her father to be prostituted at an outlaws’ camp. She kills one of the outlaws and escapes. She is followed by her buyer, but is able to drown him when the Kingsbridge bridge collapses, a tragedy that kills many, including all of Wulfric’s immediate family and Prior Anthony of Kingsbridge. In the midst of the disaster Ralph saves Earl Roland’s life and is rewarded with the lordship of Gwenda’s village of Wigleigh.
Gwenda and Wulfric return to Wigleigh and attempt to gain Wulfric the inheritance of his father’s land. The inheritance is eventually denied by Ralph because of the grudge he bears against Wulfric, Wulfric’s beautiful wife-to-be, Annet, then leaves him allowing Gwenda to marry him instead. Gwenda then tries to win Wulfric back his lands from Ralph but is double-crossed. Meanwhile, the monastery’s Sacrist, Godwyn, a nephew of Prior Anthony, outwits his opponents and wins the priory election in an overwhelming victory. Godwyn clashes with the townsmen on a number of issues, including the funding and building of a fabulous new bridge designed by Merthin. Caris, meanwhile becomes the de facto alderman & Despite being her cousin, Godwyn charges her with witchcraft hoping to have her executed to get her out of the way. To escape execution, Caris agrees to join the Kingsbridge nunnery. With his impending marriage to Caris made impossible, Merthin leaves Kingsbridge for Florence to pursue his building career.
Eight years later, Caris travels to France to petition the bishop, who is fighting with King Edward III in France. Along the way she witnesses the ravages of the war and acts as a field nurse during the Battle of Crecy, during which Ralph saves the life of the Prince of Wales and is rewarded with his lifelong dream of knighthood. Caris’s errand is fruitless, however, as the bishop of Kingsbridge as well as Earl Roland have been killed in the battle. In Florence, the city is ravaged by the Black Death & After recovering from the plague, a newly-widowed Merthin experiences an epiphany of his love for Caris and returns to Kingsbridge with his daughter Laura (Lolla). There he finds Caris however she is unwilling to renounce her vows. Meanwhile Merthin re-establishes himself in Kingsbridge which has been ravaged by the Plague and Thousands of residents have died, including the prioress of the nunnery, so Caris takes control and institutes the use of masks and cleanliness which help to protect the nuns from the plague. Godwyn loses his nerve and flees with the monks to an isolated chapel where he and all the monks die except for Gwenda’s brother Philemon, who left, and Thomas Langley.After William, the new Earl of Shiring, dies from the plague along with all his male heirs, Ralph sees a chance to become Earl. After murdering his young wife Matilda (Tilly) he arranges his marriage to William’s widow Lady Phillipa, whom he has long desired, and makes himself Earl. However Philippa spurns him and leaves for the Kingsbridge nunnery, where she has a relationship with Merthin. Afraid of Ralph’s wrath, Philippa seduces Ralph to make him believe the child is his.
After two years, the plague dissipates and Caris, who is now running a hospita,l renounces her vows, and marries Merthin. The people of Kingsbridge are then granted a borough charter, freeing them from the lordship of the priory, and Merthin becomes alderman. Merthin also solves the long troublesome problem of why the vault of the cathedral collapsed by dismantling and rebuilding one of the towers which he redesigns to be the tallest building in England. Labour shortages resulting from the plague allow Wulfric to regain his father’s land. When Sam, the secret son of Ralph, kills the local bailiff’s son, Gwenda reveals his true parentage to Ralph to gain Sam’s release. Armed with this knowledge, Ralph blackmails Gwenda & Sam and Gwenda kill Ralph. Davey, Gwenda’s second son, negotiates a free tenancy and marries Amabel, the daughter of Wulfric’s former wife-to-be, proving to Gwenda that her life has had some worth.Meanwhile Gwenda’s conniving brother Philemon becomes Prior of Kingsbridge and even tries to become Bishop, but his ambition is ruined after Sir Thomas Langley dies of old age. Merthin keeps his promise and digs up the letter which reveals that the deposed King Edward II had secretly survived and had gone overseas. Merthin trades the letter to a member of the king’s court in exchange for Philemon’s departure from Kingsbridge forever.After working together with Caris and the townspeople to subdue a second, milder outbreak of the plague, Merthin completes his spire and succeeds in making Kingsbridge cathedral the tallest building in England. The series stars Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Peter Firth, Ben Chaplin, Charlotte Riley, Sarah Gadon and Tom Weston-Jones & was produced by Scott Free and Tandem Communications, adapted by John Pielmeier, and is directed by Michael Caton-Jones who also directed the historical epic Rob Roy.