The Pillars of the Earth

Movie review by
Elka Karl, Common Sense Media
The Pillars of the Earth Movie Poster Image
Impressive medieval miniseries heaps on graphic violence.
  • NR
  • 2010
  • 421 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Even though the bad guys ultimately get what's coming to them, the ruined lives, broken families, and large body count left in their wake doesn't leave a positive impression. Granted, the message may be realistic for the events and time period portrayed, but it's also disheartening and dreary. Plotting between various characters and factions, as well as instances of backstabbing and betrayal create a negative overall tone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Several main characters provide positive role models, however, the numerous negative characters that populate the miniseries virtually obliterates this influence -- especialy when coupled with the intense documentation of violence on screen.


Nearly every kind of violent action possible before the invention of firearms, from self-flagellation and bloodletting by a priest to murder. Also: poisoning, intention to commit infanticide, burning at the stake, rape, throat cuttings, executions used as entertainment, arson, murderous plottings, violent thievery, torture, and copious amounts of splattering blood, sword fighting, and hand-to-hand combat.


Sex with partial nudity. An incestuous relationship between a mother and son. Close up views of venereal disease.



References to hell and God damning people -- all in a religious/historical context, as well as "bastard" children.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many mugs of mead are consumed in courtyard market scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Pillars of the Earth is a historical miniseries filled with graphic violence, including rape, murder, and torture. The series also features an incestuous sexual relationship, some sex, and partial nudity, as well as a generally dark and dreary tone.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byEliteMovieCritic May 8, 2020

Filth filled series

Where to start?? Every type of dark and disgusting uncalled for gratuitous violence, sometimes with sexuality n nudity. This is dark and sick, it will feed the... Continue reading
Adult Written byJames Hedrick March 19, 2019

Powerful and Compelling Historical Drama, not for Kids!

The Pillars of the Earth, both the book and miniseries are intense but enjoyable and well written. The story is engaging, the characters believable and the pl... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bybdd458 March 4, 2011

If you're mature, you can handle it...

Love how you think because it's not a happy ending it is not a good thing. Since history is not happy endings. I'm reading the book, and quite disgust... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in 12th century England, THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH is based on the novel of the same name by Ken Follett. This is a story of religious and royal power struggles, war, love, and the evolution of cathedral building. The story centers around Tom Builder, a stone mason, who loses his job working for William Hamleigh, and in short order loses his wife, leaves his baby son on her grave, meets a witch and her son, and finds refuge and work at the monastery in Kingsbridge where he begins work on a cathedral. From here, the story unfurls over many years, many families, and many locations, all connected. The miniseries riffs on actual historical events, included the civil war between Queen Maud and King Stephen.


Is it any good?

First and foremost, The Pillars of the Earth is incredibly and intimately violent. There aren't legions of nameless zombies mowed down by machine guns in this series. Instead, viewers are subjected to slow torture scenes, up-close images of venereal disease, and bloody battle scenes between beloved characters.

However, if you can stomach the violence, the intricate web of storytelling showcased in the series is impressive. Taking place over eight episodes, the miniseries packs in an impressive level of detail. History, especially the civil war between Queen Maud and King Stephen, is laid out in vivid, albeit violent, detail. The acting is nothing to sniff at either. The treacherous and absolutely evil Bishop Waleran (Ian McShane) is particularly affecting -- a character fans will absolutely love to hate. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about portrayals of violence. Do you think this miniseries accurately portrays the violence of the time? Why do you think that the filmmakers chose to accentuate the violence by using techniques such as spattering the camera lens with blood?

  • How does the miniseries represent psychological violence? Is it portrayed differently than physical violence? How does the miniseries communicate these feelings?

  • How does the miniseries represent differences between classes? How does it compare to the way movies represent contemporary differences between classes?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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