I decided to get the fantastic 2011 eight part television adaptation of Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth as part of a Black Friday deal which was too good to miss. Adapted by Ridley Scott the series was nominated for 3 Golden Globes, including Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, Ian McShane for Best Actor and Hayley Atwell for Best Actress at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
It begins with The sinking of the White Ship which leaves the current king King Henry I of England without a clear heir. Upon Henry’s death Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois and Henry’s daughter Maud fight for the throne and Ambitious nobles and churchmen take sides, hoping to gain advantages. Amidst this turmoil red-headed man is hanged in 1123 for theft, after being condemned by a priest, a knight, and a monk. His pregnant lover curses the men who condemned him, declaring that their children will be hanged, their enemies will prosper, and that they will live the rest of their lives with regret and sorrow.
A few years later In 1135 a mason named Tom Builder and his family find themselves destitute and starving. After his pregnant wife Agnes dies in childbirth, Tom abandons his newborn by his wife’s grave. Luckily Tom’s infant is rescued and taken monastery cell belonging to the Kingsbridge Priory. Tom decides to leave the infant to the monastery and finds work when he is hired by Bartholomew, Earl of Shiring, to repair the walls of the Earl’s castle. Philip, the leader of the cell, is visited by his brother Francis, a priest, who warns him of a plot by Earl of Shiring Bartholomew and the Earl of Gloucestershire against King Stephen. Philip tells Waleran Bigod, the ambitious archdeacon to the Bishop of Kingsbridge, of the plot, and travels to Kingsbridge Priory where the previous manager, Prior James, has died only a few days before. Waleran promises to make Philip the bishop’s nomination for prior, practically guaranteeing Philip’s election, in return for Philip’s support to later make Waleran bishop. Philip agrees as the priory has become financially and spiritually destitute under Prior James. However Walerian Bigod’s activities makes enemies particularly the sub-prior Remigius. Tom’s infant, now named Jonathan, is sent to live with Philip at the priory. Waleran goes to the Hamleighs, a noble family who have been enemies of the Earl of Shiring ever since the earl’s daughter, Aliena, rejected a marriage with William, the only son of the Hamleighs. Wanting revenge, the Hamleighs take Bartholomew’s castle and arrest the earl, forcing Tom and Ellen, now lovers, and their children into homelessness once again. They eventually settle in Kingsbridge, Tom hoping to get a job rebuilding the cathedral there. They also encounter Jonathan however only Tom and Ellen know that he is Tom’s son. To ensure that Tom will have work, Jack takes rather drastic action. Brother Remigius, who is opposed to Philip as prior, charges Ellen and Tom with fornication. So Waleran, who was cursed by the woman at the hanging, orders Ellen to live apart from Tom so Ellen returns to the forest with Jack.
Philip and Waleran try to convince King Stephen to give Bartholomew’s estates, including a huge limestone quarry, to the church, to pay for the new cathedral’s construction. Philip learns from the Hamleighs that Waleran intends to use the earldom for selfish goals. Meanwhile The Hamleighs want the Earldom themselves, so Philip secretly conspires with the Hamleighs concerning Kingsbridge Priory the quarry and the rest of Shiring. William attacks Aliena and her brother Richard at Shiring Castle, He mutilates the boy to coerce Aliena into not resisting as he and his man-at-arms gang rape her. Homeless and destitute, Aliena and Richard travel to Winchester to visit Bartholomew in Prison. The former earl demands they swear an oath to work to regain the earldom. Aliena becomes a wealthy wool merchant with the help of Philip, and the two siblings settle in Kingsbridge. The Hamleighs attempt to barricade the quarry against the priory then conspire with Waleran claiming that Kingsbridge lacks the resources and manpower to build a cathedral to get revenge on Philip. However Philip has a plan to foil Walerian and Bishop Henry of Blois ends up deciding not to move the Cathedral to Shiring.
When William’s father, Percy Hamleigh, passes away, William learns that the earldom will either go to him or Richard, now a knight, since they are both sons of an Earl of Shiring. So William leads an attack on the quarry to restore his fortunes and raise an army with which to impress King Stephen. Tom befriends Prior Philip and, when Ellen returns, he persuades Philip to allow them to marry. Alfred proposes to Aliena but she falls in love with Jack, now working as an apprentice mason. Alfred starts a fight with Jack when he claims that Jack’s father was hanged for thieving, and Jack ends up being expelled from the cathedral construction. but Philip contrives a new construction overseer position for Jack provided that he becomes a monk. Jack reluctantly agrees to this, in order to stay in Kingsbridge. William proves a hapless and merciless lord who mishandles the earldom financially he decides to attack Kingsbridge Killing many people including Tom Builder and destroying Aliena’s livelihood.
Having lost her fortune Aliena agrees to marry Alfred if he supports Richard. Jack, who has been confined for continued infringements discovers from Ellen that his father was framed for theft by three men. Freed by his mother, Jack tries to convince Aliena to leave Kingsbridge with him, Jack then attempts to persuade Alfred to call off the marriage. Ellen curses the wedding, seemingly leaving Alfred impotent, and he and Aliena never consummate their marriage. Jack leaves Kingsbridge to find out about his father. Following the death of Earl Percy Hamleigh, Stephen finally gives the earldom to William. The Roof of Kingsbridge cathedral tragically collapse during a service, killing many people. Aliena gives birth to a red-headed son, and Alfred abandons her, having realised that the child is Jack’s. So Aliena leaves with her son to find Jack,eventually finding him in Paris where he gains financial support to rebuild Kingsbridge Cathedral. Jack travels to Cherbourg where he is mistaken for the ghost of Jacques Cherbourg who had supposedly died in the sinking of the White Ship. Jack Returns to Kingsbridge, andconvinces Philip and the clergy to make him the cathedral’s new master-builder. Then Jack questions Ellen, concerning his father’s death. He finds out that the White Ship was sunk deliberately and that Percy Hamleigh, Waleran Bigod, and Prior James knew Jacques Cherbourg. Then William, convinces Waleran to let him attack Kingsbridge again. However Richard warns Jack of the impending attack.
Williams Poor leadership has a drastic effect on Kingsbridge so Alfred leaves Kingsbridge for Shiring, upon returning Alfred asks Jack for a Job. Meanwhile William’s mother dies, and Waleran persuades him to build a Cathedral in Shiring. They are later aided by Alfred, who brings all of the Kingsbridge workmen to Shiring in return for being in charge of the cathedral’s construction, after Philip is unable to keep paying them. Inspired by Aliena, Richard organises the starving peasants who have turned to crime into a militia, and goes to war with William, robbing him on multiple occasions. William learns of the location of Richard’s forces from Remigius, in return for making the monk the head of Shiring’s future chapter, and plans an overwhelming attack to kill all the rebels but this does not go according to plan. Eventually, Stephen agrees to have Henry succeed him. Philip learns that as part of their deal, all properties will revert to the owners who held them prior to Stephen’s reign, thus making Richard the official earl. Then William’s young wife, helps Aliena andRichard to capture the earldom’s castle before Henry and Stephen’s treaty can be made official and the King’s Peace restored. William returns to the village of Hamleigh, where Waleran proposes to make him Sheriff of Shiring. Richard refuses to grant the priory access to the quarry.
Aliena is nearly raped by Alfred, however Richard arrives and kills Alfred in the ensuing fight Seeing a chance to regain the earldom, William obtains a warrant to arrest Richard for murder on the king’s behalf. Instead Philip proposes that Richard, who is more suited to be a soldier than an earl, fight in the Crusades as penance for killing Alfred; William would be unable to arrest him, and Aliena could stay on her brother’s lands, therefore giving the earldom both a competent ruler and one willing to co-operate with the priory. Kingsbridge cathedral is eventually completed. However Waleran accuses Philip, of fornication and claiming that Jonathan, now a well liked and committed monk, is Philip’s illigitimate son. Jack and Jonathan are unaware he is Tom’s son. They discover that Jonathan was found near the monastery cell that Philip once ran. At Philip’s trial, Ellen’s testimony saves him from being convicted. Regardless, Waleran accuses Ellen of perjury so she threatens to reveal the truth about his involvement in the sinking of the white ship and the events surrounding Jacques Cherbourg and Waleran finds himself in an increasingly precarious position.