A cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power, this Starz adaptation of Ken Follett's massive page-turner offers all the scheming and plotting of royal potboilers like Elizabeth
and Showtime's The Tudors
. The story takes place in the 12th century, when King Henry I loses his son at sea. After Henry's death, his nephew, Stephen (Tony Curran), assumes the throne, against the wishes of the Earl of Bartholomew (Donald Sutherland, star of Follett's Eye of the Needle
) and Henry's daughter, Maud (Alison Pill, convincing as a Brit), which pits them against Bishop Waleran (Deadwood
's Ian McShane) and Lady Hamleigh (Sarah Parish) and her bloodthirsty son, William (David Oakes). Tom (Rufus Sewell), a mason, and his apprentice, Jack (Savage Grace
's Eddie Redmayne), enter the fray when they offer to construct a cathedral for Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen).
In the decades to come, Philip and the earl's children, Aliena (Hayley Atwell) and Richard (Sam Claflin), battle the bishop and the Hamleighs to complete Kingsbridge Cathedral and restore their family name. Jack's mother, Ellen (Natalia Wörner), aids in their efforts, while Jack and Alfred (Jared Leto look-alike Liam Garrigan), Tom's ne'er-do-well son, compete for Aliena's affections. As fortunes rise and fall, there's rape, incest, and executions, resulting in nudity, profanity, and splashes of blood. There are also over-the-top sequences, like a strange smothering, but the multi-character story line is involving, and the principal cast, particularly Sewell, is up to the task. The eight-part series includes extra features that explore the digital effects, the animated opening titles, and the production with Follett, executive producer Ridley Scott, actor/writer John Pielmeier, and director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. --Kathleen C. Fennessy