It’s kind of lazy to chalk a film’s flaws up to the industry "not making them like they used to”, but we seem to be reaching that point with the historical epic. The genre was once the crown jewel of Hollywood, dominating awards season and earning both enormous box office receipts and critical hosannas. Now, we are left with projects like World Without End, a project produced by Tony Scott and Ridley Scott that isn’t bad on its own, but feels wanting in comparison to what has come before it, as well as based on what we know about the Dark Ages.
13th Century England has rarely been described as a cheery place. A feudal state defined by abject hunger and poverty on one social pole, and opulence and treachery on another, the period provided little quarter for the decency and civility of its inhabitants. Rather boldly, World Without End stretches its narratives across these poles, devoting equal measure to historical figures such as Queen Isabella (Aure Atika) and Edward III (Blake Ritson) to comparative paupers Petranilla (Cynthia Nixon) and Mother Cecilia (Miranda Richardson). Like any decent epic, this one is marked by actual and significant events (the Hundred Years War, the Black Plague), which serve to set these two peoples apart, and align them for battle.
The issues, to use a haughty, pretentious film school term, come down to the mise en scene. The term, roughly translated from the French, refers to the way that the director arranges the different visual components, and sets them into motion. Certainly, the ingredients for a grand story are here, and many viewers will no doubt be taken in with it, but the setting never convincingly feels like the 13th Century any more than it feels like a modern television set. Why do all of these villagers have such immaculate skin and permed hair? Why don’t these streets look any muddier? The ever-present us of CGI certainly doesn’t help either. A bit of realism (or any at all) would have helped make this series more engaging, but World Without End is content to be a pageant.
The set also contains "The Making of Ken Follett's World Without End."
"World Without End" is on sale December 4, 2012 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Michael Caton Jones. Written by John Pielmeier. Starring Ben Chaplin, Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Nora Von Waldstatten, Peter Firth, Rupert Evans, Sarah Gadon, Charlotte Riley, Tom Weston Jones, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Blake Ritson, Carlo Rota, Aure Atika.