Shakespeare said it best: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft where it most promises…”
Thanks to my expectations, I can’t watch Pillars of the Earth.
For those of you without the Starz channel, Pillars of the Earth is an original miniseries based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of Prior Phillip fighting seemingly insurmountable odds to build a cathedral while England falls into anarchy around him.
The channel promoted the miniseries for a month or so before the first episode aired July 23. And I was ready—on the couch with my soda and snack. And the series began with the burning of the White Ship.
The White Ship didn’t burn.
For those who didn’t make an academic career out of studying the 12th century, on Nov. 25, 1120, the White Ship hit a submerged rock just north of the Barfleur harbor and sank. It was dark, likely cold and most of the ship’s inhabitants were intoxicated. All but one drown, including England’s prince, the only legitimate son of King Henry I.
The loss of a direct heir plunged England into 19 years of civil war and anarchy after the king’s death as rival claimants fought for the throne and no one ruled.
As a historian, it’s a rich time period to study.
As a novelist, I get creative license (and have been known to take a few liberties with historical figures myself).
As a viewer, I understand that an opening shot of dark seas against a dark sky isn’t the grab you-by-the-gut image filmmakers want. I even enjoy Heath Ledger’s medieval romp, A Knight’s Tale.
So why did the burning of the White Ship bother me so much?
Expectations set by the “making of” video.
Those connected with the project talked ad nauseam about the effort that went into making it historically accurate. From the sets to the costumes to the mud in the streets, no detail was seemingly overlooked. So I naturally expected above average attention to all the facts, including the inciting incident: the sinking of the White Ship.
More than likely, I’ll try to watch it again, and when I do, I’ll just keep telling myself that it’s not about the history.