28 July 2010

Intentionally Fictional History

During an enforced hospital break last year, I needed some seriously big books to keep me entertained. Having read all of the Jilly Coopers I fancied, it was time for some Ken Follett--his historical fiction books rather than the thrillers. I read World with Out End first, which chronicles the lives of the residents of the English town of Kingsbridge throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. I do like these kind of chronicles.

Although it wasn't really my specialist period, I really enjoyed the book and soon began its predecessor, Pillars of the Earth, which is set in the same town two hundred years earlier. I enjoyed POTE slightly less than its sequel but I suspect this is mainly because the two books have very similar characters: the strong woman (ahead of her time, believes in medicine witchcraft over praying, good business sense); the cowardly, mummy's boy rapist); the poor but clever builder who has to work his way to the top; the scheming monk/bishop.

Nonetheless, I wanted to check out the new TV adaptation of POTE to see how it fared, especially when I found out that Rufus Sewell and assorted other attractive blokes were in it. I've seen two episodes and I've already decided I like it more than The Tudors because:

  • The source material of POTE is fiction so I can't get too annoyed when the TV series diverges from the book. Wait, maybe this isn't a good reason given that the source material of The Tudors seems to be a combination of Wikipedia and The Other Boleyn Girl.
  • As POTE is based on a novel rather than (theoretically) history, it is well structured, so far. It works dramatically and doesn't need to spend half of a season dealing with the Pilgrimage of Grace and other northern naughtinesses.
  • Apart from a Scot (who didn't last long) and a vaguely foreign-sounding woman (she grew up in France; it's not her fault), the characters in POTE all sound how they are supposed to. There are no Irish Henry VIIIs or Edward VIs, there are no northern Thomas Seymours, there are no invasions of Bologna (sorry, you actually meant Boulogne? Jeez...) and generally, no traces of American or Canadian accents remain.
  • Other than the Duke of Phwoar, The Tudors was surprisingly empty of aesthetically appealing characters (although Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell did have un certain something). POTE has a wider selection, which is lucky given that I know who is going to die when and who is going to turn out to be a baddie.
  • No Jonathan Rhys Meyers in POTE. I'm sorry but although he's a nice enough lad, he has to be the worst ever Henry VIII.
  • The Tudors started out well but seemed to drag on too long (they only planned to make two seasons--up until the death of Anne Boleyn). Hopefully, if POTE is a success, they will make a series of World without End rather than carrying on with the POTE characters, imagining what might have happened next.

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