THIS series is gripping and a must-watch when it comes to Sunday nights on the ABC. The characters stay with you long after the final episode and it is bound to send you not only to find the book it’s based on, but also to history books or at the very least Wikipedia to read more about this turbulent but fascinating period in English history.

Based on the novel by Ken Follett the story centres on the construction of a cathedral in the market town of Kingsbridge in the 12th Century.

It’s a period of upheaval and civil war: King Henry’s heir has drowned when “the white ship” mysteriously sinks. Henry’s cousin Stephen takes the throne, sparking a civil war with Henry’s daughter Maud.

Against this backdrop, Tom Builder (you guessed it, he’s a builder) and his family are seeking work in a terrible English winter. When tragedy strikes, their path takes them to Kingsbridge where Tom begins work on a magnificent cathedral, a task that will take 50 years. He’s building the cathedral for the new prior of the monastery, a man who’s about to be embroiled in dark political secrets.

This is a story of intrigue and the struggle for power. But although kings and queens feature, we’re swept along by the stories of ordinary people – Tom Builder, the idealistic Prior Philip, the impoverished daughter of an earl branded a traitor, Aliena and her soldier brother Richard who want justice.

The cast is terrific. From Rufus Sewell (Tom Builder) to Matthew Macfadyen (Spooks) who plays Prior Philip, even to the oh-so-nasty William Hamleigh brilliantly played by David Oakes (Juan Borgia in The Borgias), the acting is superb and the characters believable. We sympathise with Tom and Philip, we want to plot William’s downfall, see his vicious and twisted mother gone, we want revenge for Aliena (Hayley Atwell) and Richard (Sam Claflin). And we want the cathedral to be built in Kingsbridge, not nearby Shiring where William is scheming to have it moved to.

Pillars of the Earth is out on DVD but if you haven’t seen it, it begins on ABC1 on Sunday, December 9, at 8.30pm.

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