Well, I’ve just seen the first episode of World Without End and two hours certainly zipped by! The action begins with the defeat of Edward II by his wife and her lover. You’ll possibly recall that this deposed monarch allegedly went on to have a red hot poker shoved up him and was thus killed. This may not have actually happened but you can read my previous blog post on his murder for more salacious details. Edward II, I should add, was the king who presided over the termination of the Knights Templar in England.
As with Pillars of the Earth, World Without End is a multi-protagonist affair and new characters are introduced in rapid succession. Abusive husbands, incest, poisoning and executions abound. We see the whole spectrum of early 14th century society from cut-purses who mingle with the crowds at a hanging to steal from the distracted crowd through to the new king, Edward III, who is a rather steely-eyed and Machiavellian youngster.
Treachery is endemic and you almost don’t feel very sorry for the local earl in the village of Kingsbridge – where most of the action is set – who comes a cropper because, well, he’s not very good at playing the required game of devious deception. His neck is stretched at the gallows on a trumped up treason charge and one of his sons must become squire to the man who stitched up his Dad.
Ken Follett, author of this saga, loves the medieval world of medicine with its crazy cures and daft theories about bodily functions. I must admit that I share the fascination. How on earth did anybody ever get well with all these quacks around? One woman who seems ahead of the pack in the medical field is a half-Moorish herbalist and physician but a monk who also fancies himself as a doctor (big on using dung in surgery) implicates his competition as a witch.
The budget for this production seems to be generous with gorgeous sets and expensive shots. The fourteenth century seems to be a marginally tidier and certainly more populated version of the twelfth century that formed the backdrop to Pillars. While the story telling is great, I’m not as sucked into the drama as I was with Pillars of the Earth. World Without End has a delicious camp brutality but I’m keen to see if I feel the same constant tension I experienced with Pillars.
Still – I recommend. And with the magic of HD, it’s great to have this medieval action leaping out of the TV screen at you. I’d be delighted to hear your comments.
- World Without End, episode one, Channel 4, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- TV review: World Without End; Blandings (guardian.co.uk)