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The Pillars of the Earth

October 2009

Characters and Casting

To start off, I want to give you a production update: The television adaptation of my book The Pillars of the Earth has just moved from Hungary to Austria for a few weeks of shooting. After that, they’ll go back to Hungary for the last part of the shoot. In all, there are 112 shooting days on this huge production. After that, of course, there will be months of editing to put all the components together, including music, visual effects and sound design. In a different way, a television drama is as complicated as a novel.

As the reality dawned on me that the book was about to become a television series – a visual version of my story – I realized that the characters I spent years creating in every intimate detail were now going to be recreated by actors, and I wondered nervously who would be cast. I need not have worried. When I learned who had been cast I was thrilled. They are from the top flight of serious actors. I have seen, admired and enjoyed their work.

The people I created in my mind and my imagination are going to be represented by some of the most talented actors around, actors who can make you scared, angry, or tearful. From the marvelous Ian McShane as the dark soul “Waleran Bigod”, who believes he is God’s will; the intense and multi-faceted Rufus Sewell as “Tom Builder” — probably the most popular character I ever wrote; Matthew Macfadyen, who portrays the complex “Prior Philip” with unrelenting strength; the highly-regarded Sarah Parish, as the manipulative and dangerous “Regan Hamleigh”.

Then there’s the wonderful young talent: the lovely and truly gifted Hayley Atwell playing our heroine, “Aliena” and Eddie Redmayne as our hero, “Jack”, who gives a performance of amazing depth and passion. I’ve been looking at footage regularly since Pillars went before the cameras in June 2009, and the cast is so good I can hardly believe it.

When I was on set in July of this year, I observed a scene that was being shot between Aliena and Elizabeth, the scene in which Elizabeth tells the story of how her husband William Hamleigh has beaten and abused her over the years. As I watched this scene and got tears in my eyes, I thought: Wait a minute! I made this up! For all authors, it is a real buzz to see characters brought to life by good actors in a set that is been so lovingly created.

The Middle Ages were grim and violent, but Pillars is about how the human spirit can rise above its circumstances, and each of the principal characters does this in a different way.

Tom Builder is an architect and master builder with a vision. He devotes his entire life to building something of beauty – a cathedral, which is his compass to God. Tom uses his gentle strength to inspire and motivate those around him to understand and tap into their own abilities.

Jack has been an artist from boyhood, with a natural talent that needs guidance. Tom makes him his protégé and treats him like a son, knowing he will someday need to pass the torch on to him. Jack grows to be a leader of men, who shies away from no oppressor. He is everything Tom wanted him to be – and more.

Prior Philip is a pragmatic man, who only wants the best for his flock. When confronted by opposition he rises to the occasion and manages to fight against the tyrants who threaten his people by using the power of wit over brute force… a method of fighting that sometimes takes longer, but usually brings long-lasting results and is infinitely more satisfying!

Aliena was born into pure privilege. When all wealth and status is taken away, when she is humiliated to the point of breaking, Aliena’s survivor instinct kicks in. She will always make the best from her present situation, but not lose sight that one needs to stand up for what is right.

Authors who see their work adapted for the screen always experience trepidation… will it be true to the book? Will the characters come to life and hook audiences – audiences that include people who have read the book and those who haven’t? I have no doubt that you’ll be as happy as I am with the result of this adaptation.

See you again next month.

— Ken Follett

October 2009



The TV series official site

See the Tandem/Muse/Scott Free website for the production, for information on the filming, cast and crew news and Ken’s blog… www.the-pillars-of-the-earth.tv/