Tell Me A Story: The Pillars of the Earth and Single Father

Last weekend, I almost broke one of my cardinal rules, when deciding which TV programmes to watch. I paid attention to the previews in the Radio Times: fulsome praise for Single Father and faint damns for The Pillars of the Earth, from David Butcher. Normally, I read them and then ignore them, preferring to make up my own mind. In this instance, if my husband hadn't suggested that Pillars of the Earth might actually be good, I might well have given it a miss. 'It ought to be either a romp or a sweeping saga but it's neither,' says DB. Why ought it? Afterwards, it struck me that I get bored by romps and sweeping sagas in about equal measure. The Pillars of the Earth has - so far - kept me glued to my television, in a way that few other dramas have, this year, and the main reason is that it is a wonderfully involving story, beautifully acted, visually stunning, thoroughly well told. In fact it's just sweeping enough to be exciting but not so sweeping that the viewer doesn't give a stuff; just enough of a romp to be emotionally engaging, but not such a ridiculous mangling of historical fact that it challenges the viewer's suspension of disbelief. I love it and I love it most of all because it's telling me a damn good story, and I find myself sitting, enthralled as a child. Believe me, that doesn't happen very often on UK television these days.
On the other hand, reading Butcher's ecstasies about Single Father, I did wonder if we'd been watching the same thing. Don't get me wrong. I've been watching this and been entertained by it. Any new TV drama is to be welcomed. But this has been mostly because of the very fine acting of David Tennant and Suranne Jones, who could perform the phone book together, and still make you watch them. Did I find it 'grabbing me by the emotional lapels and demanding attention'? Er, no. And I'll tell you the thing that irritates me most about it. It's that they have set a drama in Glasgow, and not made it about crime, drugs and murders (two cheers). But then, they've chickened out, haven't they? They've deliberately manipulated the plot so that they can go to Edinburgh to make it picturesque,with lots of touristy shots of the castle, Princes Street Gardens, and so on, ignoring all the very real beauties of Glasgow itself. Shame on them.
More about 'story' in the next post.


margaret blake said…
I didn't like Pillars of the Earth, gave up three quarter way through, sorry.

Have stuck with Single Father but it's getting a bit far fetched.(But it has Rupert Graves, sigh).Oops, shall I crawl into a hole now? I thought it was all set in Edinburgh!!!!!

Makes it all the more imperative that I visit my cousin next spring as planned!!!
Hahaha! I know. You could have been forgiven for thinking that it was all set in Edinburgh! There was the odd shot of a Glasgow park, I think, but it is meant to be Glasgow. And so much of it is so wonderful that you'd think they might show it on film now and again. I know a few people who also don't like Pillars, but I'm really engrossed in it now. Maybe it's because I was a Mediaevalist in another life. (Even though the academics have been complaining!)
Anonymous said…
Academic - schmacademic! I've really enjoyed it. Having Matthew MacFadyen in it doesn't hurt either...
Yes, Matthew M is certainly a big plus in my book!!!
Bill Kirton said…
I'm not much of a telly-watcher but I'm just writing to support your call for more attention to be paid to the beauties of Glasgow. I could also add that, speaking as an ex-academic, the fact that academics have sniffed at Pillars might persuade me to give it a try.
Just saw your blog, Catherine and have to agree with what you say about Pillars of the Earth.

I'm also glued to the TV while it's on - everything about it seems so authentic and it's a really good drama. I've always love medieval times and this is set at the same time as the Bother Cadfael stories.

Haven't been watching Single Father.