Friday, 9 August 2013

TV review: World without End


World without End is the adaptation in mini-series format of Ken Follet's novel. In a way, it is a sequel to Pillars of the Earth (adapted in 2010), as it takes place in the same fictional town, but is set some 150 years later.

At the start of the Hundred Year War between England and France, the English King Edward II is betrayed by his wife Queen Isabella who gives the crown to her son Edward III. This will change the lives of the people in the market town of Kingsbridge, as a new Earl is appointed. Caris Wooler, a young woman with large dreams sees her father arrested and herself married off to the brutal Elfric. A mysterious knight makes his way to Kingsbridge Priory and intends to become a monk there, but he carries he secret great enough to be a danger to all of the country. Meanwhile, the Black Death comes ever closer to England.

World without End, like it's predecessor 'Pillars' is a sprawling Medieval epic with a huge cast. It details incedents involving all of Medieval society, from royalty to small farmers and all in between. Though I have not read Ken Follet's novels, I liked Pillars of the Earth very much and am quite partial to tv series set in Medieval times (it was my 'favourite' period of history during my teenage years!) I therefore had high hopes for this sequel, set against the backdrop of such interesting events as the Hunderd Year War and the Black Death epidemic.

Unfortunately, this hopes were not at all proven correct! People, this is súch a bad series, the worst tv-series I've seen this year and maybe even since I-don't-know-when. Though the main storyline is quite similar to 'Pillars' (young couple is seperated by events beyond their control and try to find their way back to each other), I did not like the main characters here at all. Caris, though in a way admirable for her bravery and dreams, was generally a whiny character who made a lot of very silly choices. Merthin, her love, shows not a lot of backbone and most of the time does little else but follow Caris like a puppy. The villains, Caris aunt Petronilla and her cousin Prior Godwyn were horribly one-dimensional, seemingly only villainous for the sake of it. A great pity and a waste of well-known actors Rupert Evans (Emma '09) and Cynthia Nixon.

The acting overall was mediocre, with as favourable exceptions the German actress Nora von Waldstätten as the fierce peasant Gwenda and Miranda Richardson as the wise Mother Cecilia. I also quite enjoyed seeing Blake Ritson play Edward III. He sure has a penchant for royal roles (after playing the Duke of Kent in Upstairs, Downstairs) and I think he's good at it! You may ask me: 'If this was such a bad series, why would you continue to watch it?'. Well, I did consider stopping after an episode or two, but I wanted to know how it all ended (afterwards, I really could have missed the way it ended though)

Was there nothing remotely good or entertaining about World without End? I still found the historical backdrop really interesting and the cinematography was very good for a tv series. The battle scenes taking place in France and the scenes of the collapsing bridge in Kingsbridge were examples of good filming and impressive visuals. I also found it interesting to see the devastating effect of the Black Death and the utter unpreparedness of the Medieval people for such an epidemic. The plague epidemics had huge impacts in Medieval Europe, yet are touched upon in very few books or movies/tv-series about the period. Aside from these mayor events though, the series did not feel period-correct. The characters were infused with modern ways of thought: about the differences between the sexes, between rich and poor, about faith. I am sure there were indeed some women like Caris in the Middle Ages, who managed to acquire knowledge and reach a certain position in the male-dominated society of the 14th century. I however do not believe áll women thought beyond their family and home or áll peasants wanted to overthrow their lords, as it seems in World without End.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the excessive content there is in this miniseries. There is a large number of sexual scenes in World without End, including rape and same-sex relationships. There is also a lot of violence, including executions and the visuals connected to people dying of the Black Death are not pretty. So even if you wanted to risk watching a really cheesy and badly acted mini-series because you love Medieval adaptations, be wary of this!

My advise would be (to quote a review from IMDB): avoid it, like the plague.... Preferably go watch the much better Pillars of the Earth or a 'classic' Medieval movie like First Knight or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

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