Photos: Egon Endrenyi
Tom is a thoroughly likable man, the most popular character I've ever written, but his flaws have a bad effect on his relationships. His determination to complete his dream of building a cathedral sets him wandering away from other work, and may be responsible for the death of his first wife. His blindness to the bullying nature of his son Alfred (Liam Garrigan) creates immediate and lingering difficulties with Ellen, because the victim is her own son Jack (Eddie Redmayne). He's the only relic of her own first love, someone she's determined to protect because no one protected his father, and to her the bullying is so obvious that Tom's unwillingness to do anything about it makes her wonder whether the rest of the relationship is sincere.
It is, of course—but when one half of a couple won't see the other's point of view, that's when the risk of a parting starts to cast its shadow. This is no plot contrivance, but a human failing as real now as nine centuries ago, and the audience, who may have experienced it for themselves, are fascinated to see how it will be resolved in this time and place. And then there's that secret, which has given Ellen a deep distrust of the Church—so much that she and Tom are still unmarried when their relationship is discovered, and suddenly having to live apart is no longer their own choice to make.
Jack and Aliena (Hayley Atwell) have their own problems, ones that might prevent them even getting together in the first place. He's the illegitimate son of a presumed witch; she's the daughter of an earl (Donald Sutherland)—and very soon, the dishonored, landless daughter of an executed traitor.
Through determination and ability, Aliena builds herself into a successful wool merchant; through talent and his stepfather Tom's teaching, Jack becomes a much more skilled mason than Alfred, an unwitting revenge on the bully that will have its own consequences. He and Aliena are now on a more even social standing, and the possibility for romance beckons—but her family's old enemies tear them apart and destroy her newfound fortune.
Before her father's death, she swore to him that she would restore her brother Richard (Sam Claflin) to the earldom. His military fame, backed by her money, has begun to attract the king's attention, making this once-distant hope a real possibility—until Aliena loses her wealth again. Then maintaining support for Richard means making other arrangements, and that's when Alfred, now a master builder, offers her his own prosperity if she marries him. If she gives up Jack, she lets Alfred bully his rival worse than ever before by taking her away.
How Ken Follett created the opportunity for romance