Summary: Compared with the other Ken Follett TV miniseries 'Pillars of the Earth', 'World Without End' feels like a shaky dress rehearsal by understudies.
After 'Pillars of the Earth' snagged three Golden Globe noms and top notch viewing figures in 2010, it was only natural that more of Ken Follett's epic historical novels would be mined for television.
The latest is 'World Without End', set around 150 years after 'Pillars of the Earth' which places it at the start of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death outbreak - fertile soil for historical drama indeed.
Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Ben Chaplin, Peter Firth, Charlotte Riley and Tom Weston-Jones head up the cast list, but none manage to deliver a truly memorable performance. It's not for lack of trying, there just isn't enough juice to go around.
'World Without End' is hampered by a no-frills production and pedestrian direction from Michael Caton-Jones ('This Boy's Life' - good, 'Basic Instinct 2' - bad). Caton-Jones' lack of visual flourish and comfort in the TV medium isn't the real issue here; it's the script that really lets it down with unconvincing dialogue and a slow pace that seldom leads to anything spectacular.
But bear with it. After a while, the domino effect begins to pick up the pace as deception, affairs and social commentary take centre stage. It tells well over half of its epic run time for the Black Death to appear, but it makes for a cracking narrative device, drastically changing everything. And then there's a cracking twist in the last episode that helps you forget the slow trek of the first few episodes.
The theme of women taking on the all powerful church and the crown with new ideas about leadership, equality and medicine is intriguing and holds 'World Without End' together. Ultimately though, those interested in 1300s history will have a natural headstart, but 'World Without End' probably won't convert that many to the period's riches.
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