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Series / The Pillars of the Earth

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The television miniseries adapted from the book of the same name.

The miniseries contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Lady Regan in the novel has hideous boils all over her face. In the miniseries, she's an otherwise attractive woman with a facial birthmark.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Despite being eight hours long, the miniseries had to significantly abridge the 850+ page novel. Most notably, it cuts most of the last part of the book, including all of the Henry II/Thomas Becket showdown, and substituted a different ending.
  • Adaptation Induced Plothole: The Age Lift of Richard in the miniseries means it makes much less sense whenever he doesn't step in to help his sister when she has trouble with a misogynistic culture. Not so much a plot hole as a drastic character alteration, as it makes him seem more useless and cowardly.
  • Adapted Out:
    • In the book Jack and Aliena have a second child, a daughter, who is not featured here.
    • Also the fate of several historical figures who feature in the novel, notably Thomas Becket and Henry of Blois, neither of whom is present in the series.
  • Age Cut: The last shot cuts forward 840 years, to show Jack's cathedral still standing in the modern day.
  • Artistic License – History: Several minor changes are introduced in the TV series for no possible reason other than because they are "so medieval". Among them:
    • Maud is portrayed as still being a child and unmarried at the time of the White Ship disaster, and is dismissed by the Archbishop on grounds of her age and gender. In fact, she was a year older than her brother William (who was 17 when he died) and already married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor until his death in 1125 brought her back to England.
    • Waleran mortifying his flesh in classic The Da Vinci Code style.
    • Ellen being forced to flee Kingsbridge because she is accused of witchcraft, instead of just because she is having an open relationship with Tom but refuses to marry him.
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    • St. Adolphus' skull being crushed during the destruction of the old cathedral, then promptly replaced with another skull by Prior Philip.
    • Jack's father having his tongue cut and then being burned at the stake, instead of just hanged.
    • For dramatic purposes, the miniseries shows both King Stephen and his son Eustace alive in 1156 when they were both dead by 1154. Additionally, the miniseries has Eustace die in battle, when the real Eustace died of natural causes.
    • King Stephen and Robert of Gloucester are both depicted being captured at the Battle of Lincoln. In fact, Robert wasn't captured until the autumn, fighting against Stephen's wife and brother at the Rout of Winchester, with Maud impotently trying to govern the country for the six months or so in between.
  • The Atoner: A minor character is a former thief who rescues Jonathon when Tom is forced to abandon him and becomes one of the monks of Kingsbridge. Later, Brother Remigius.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Phillip at Tom's funeral.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Ellen is essentially a twentieth century feminist stuck in 12th century England. Aliana is also somewhat ahead of her time, although she fits in to society slightly better.
  • Composite Character: Johnny Sixpence is now also the thief who steals Tom's pig.
  • Courtroom Antics: Ellen disrupts Waleran's Kangaroo Court by revealing his direct role in Prince William's death.
  • Creator Cameo: Ken Follett as a British merchant living in France, who was friends with Jack's father.
  • Cue the Sun: Masterfully invoked by Philip to put the fear of God into some quarriers. Later invoked in reverse by Jack with the unveiling of the statue that weeps at night (and for "at night", read "the second the sun crosses the horizon").
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Henry vs. Eustace, who's scared and confused by the chaos of battle.
    Henry: [cheerfully] Eustace! Eustace! Good to meet you, cousin! [kills him]
  • Curtain Camouflage: Cuthbert, complete with Polonian death and dramatic reveal.
  • Darker and Edgier: The miniseries, in many respects. While it leaves out some of the gorier details of the novel, it also adds some incest to make the Hamleighs more villainous, and changes just about every death in the story into some sort of murder.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jack's father was killed when he was a little boy.
  • Disney Villain Death: Waleran.
  • The Dog Bites Back: William's wife Elizabeth helps Aliena and Richard retake Shiring Castle to get back at him for his years of beating her and worse during their marriage. Waleran even explicitly names the trope during a following conversation with William.
    William: She betrayed me! My own wife!
    Waleran: If you kick a dog, it may one day rise up to bite you. Your mother never learned that and now she burns in the eternal fire.
    William: Nonsense, she's in Heaven, kneeling before the throne of God.
    Waleran: She's in Hell, William, and rumour has it you put her there.
  • The Dragon: Walter, to William.
  • Due to the Dead: A few, but most prominently for Tom Builder.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While killing the pig boy that Waleran substituted for Eustace, Walter looks distinctly unhappy about it. He still does it, because he's got orders, but he actually hesitates. Waleran too; presumably he thought that the queen would let the boy go when she realized he wasn't Eustace and so killing him would serve no purpose, and he looks genuinely shocked when she orders him executed purely out of spite. The next time we see him he is putting tacks in his shoes while he prays for forgiveness.
  • Get Out!: Tom to Jack, after he confesses to burning the old cathedral.
  • Heroic Bastard: Jack, who has to rise above the grief he gets both from the church, and from his legitimate brother Alfred (who for his part resents being The Un-Favourite when by law he's his father's only "true" son).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Stephen of England goes from "weak pawn of the nobles" to personally arranging the deaths of his predecessor, Henry I, and his son and heir so he can inherit the throne.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: We cut from Tom and Ellen having passionate, loving sex to Regan and Percy Hamleigh having perfunctory, unpleasant sex. The two even talk strategy during their intercourse.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • Philip accidentally invents the futures market some 500 years ahead of time, and Aliena has to convince him that it makes sense.
    • Also, Tom Builder’s idea of using glass to build cathedrals, which his sons laugh at. Jack later invents stained glass windows... which Philip thinks are a fad.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Martha's apparently been nursing a bit of a crush on Jack ever since she was small, but never pursued it because he was clearly in love with Aliena (and also perhaps because she's essentially his stepsister). This does however cause her to steal Jack's ring so as to have a small piece of him to herself.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Waleran demands this of Philip after he refuses to declare fealty to him.
  • Matricide: William smothers his mother after too many creepily "affectionate" gestures.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Aliena, what with the love scenes and the skinny dipping. And of course the fact that she's played by the lovely Hayley Atwell.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: William and Waleran have moments when their conscience makes them feel guilty after the fact. Waleren usually scourges himself when that happens, while William fears he's going to Hell.
  • My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: Waleran tries to have Jack arrested on the cathedral site, and Philip invokes sanctuary. Waleran counters that the cathedral is unfinished and thus undedicated, so doesn't count as holy ground. He's Hoist by His Own Petard later when he tries to claim sanctuary himself.
  • Parental Incest: William and his mother. This is quite unwanted on William's part, and quite creepily obsessive on his mother's. Which ends up leading to her murdering his father, and much later him murdering her after she prodded him too far.
  • Playing Gertrude: Natalia Wörner as Ellen was only fourteen years older than Eddie Redmayne, playing her onscreen son Jack. It's somewhat justified by the fact they had to play their characters across a fairly long time span though, and the actors' looks make it believable.
  • Prophecy Twist:
    • "Peace will reign and war depart/when arrows pierce my daughter's heart" - doesn't technically say that she'll lose, mind you...
    • Ellen's curse on Waleren, whom she predicts will climb high and then fall. Naturally you'd assume this to be a metaphor, but it happens literally when he falls from the roof of the cathedral.
  • Red-Headed Stepchild: Jack is a redheaded bastard child. Ironically, his stepfather (and stepsister, for that matter) treat him as a member of the family. This treatment is later applied to Tommy, who is also redheaded
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: William's troop of soldiers all promptly desert him and Waleran during Jack's trial.
  • Shipper on Deck: Ellen wants her son to be happy. To the point of cursing marriages that make him unhappy. "Cursing" here involving a freshly killed chicken and a spray of blood.
  • Skyward Scream: Richard, after killing Walter.
  • Spiteful Spit: "I fear I must now perform an unfortunate familiarity." Waleran to Stephen after he's gotten captured and humiliated by his enemies, and needs Waleran to save him.
  • Suffer the Slings: William is hit in the head by a slung stone during the attack on Kingsbridge. It knocks him to the ground with a nasty bruise, which is enough to drive his men off, but does no lasting damage.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Prior Phillip is seen older and with a beard in the end, after a Time Skip.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Richard goes from a coward to a badass knight. All it took was three years of English civil war (the additional ten years in The Crusades didn't hurt either).
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: When Kingsbridge is attacked by William. Richard does the training, and Jack gets them building a wall.
  • Trapped in Villainy: Remigius, who does Waleran's bidding largely because Waleran holds the leverage Remigius is a closeted homosexual over his head.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue:
  • Villainous Breakdown: King Stephen has a huge one when he visits Kingsbridge and sees some red paint on a newly finished statue drop on the fake relic of St. Adolphus, causing it to look like the “saintly skull” is weeping blood, then notices that Jack, its sculptor, is the fiery-haired artist boy he was warned about in a vision of Henry I. He has another episode after finding out his son Eustace has been killed in battle.
  • Villainous Incest: William and Regan. This provides a bit of an explanation for why William acts the way he does; one look at his face when he mother's coming onto him tells you that (1) he's really disgusted, and (2) this has likely been going on since he was very young. One such overture directly leads to him killing Regan.
  • Wall Bang Her: Tom is shown having sex with Ellen up against a wall at one point.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Elizabeth, William's wife. She disappears after Richard retakes Shiring except for when she's briefly seen working for Aliena.
    • Jonathan, who disappears after the Time Skip and never finds out his true paternity (even though the book devoted a few chapters to it).