Pillars of the Earth: A Towering Achievement

It wasn't the swords. It wasn't the sandals. For Rufus Sewell, the tough part was all the stinkin' mud. Playing a 12th-century stonemason in mega miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, premiering tonight on Starz at 10/9c, meant maintaining "a level of grime on my neck consistent with that of your typical farm animal," he says.

A small price, indeed, for what's shaping up to be the armor-clanking, leech-sucking, monks-a-poppin' drama of the summer. Pillars, based on Ken Follett's doorstop of a best-seller (all 973 pages of it), about the quest to build a Gothic cathedral in a fictional England of yore, runs eight hours over six Friday nights, which more or less qualifies it as a TV "event," though that's established the second Donald Sutherland saunters in, wearing a camel-colored cloak and a beard worthy of its own Emmy.

It helps, too, that the producers are Ridley and Tony Scott, who normally limit their medieval screw-turning and bodice-ripping to the megaplex screen. "I'm a history supporter, and television was really the only way to present a historical tale this vast," says Ridley (Robin Hood). "With so many individual characters and so much time and ground to cover, two hours simply wasn't enough."

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