EXCLUSIVE: German-based Tandem Communications and Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free Prods. have locked in the main cast of their $44 million eight-hour miniseries World Without End, a follow-up to The Pillars of the Earth, which the two companies also co-produced. Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Ben Chaplin, Peter Firth (MI5), Charlotte Riley (The Duchess) and Tom Weston-Jones (Enlightenment) lead the cast of the mini, based on the novel by The Pillars of the Earth author Ken Follett. Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy) is directing from a script by John Pielmeier, who also adapted The Pillars of the Earth for Tandem and Scott Free. The two companies are co-producing World Without End with Canada’s Take 5 Prods. and Galafilm.

Set in England 200 years after the events in Pillars, World chronicles tough times for ordinary citizens who are being hit with enormous taxes by the King, the Church as England teeters on the brink of a devastating 100-year war with France, and Europe is bracing for a terrible plague, which will wipe out a third of the continent’s population. The mini centers on Caris (Riley), a visionary woman who, with her lover Merthin, builds a community that stands up to the Crown and the Church. Tandem’s managing director Rola Bauer, who executive produces World, hopes viewers would find a second layer in the story about citizens’ revolt against an unbearable economic burden. “We’re going through a lot of that right now as the middle class is shrinking, so that second layer is all about us,” she said. Nixon will play the beautiful and deadly schemer Petranilla, Richardson will play the strong and determined Mother Cecilia, Chaplin will play the mysterious Sir Thomas Langley, and Firth (MI5) will play the ruthless Earl Roland. Also cast in the project are Rupert Evans (Hellboy) as the duplicitous Godwyn; Nora von Waldstaetten (Carlos) as streetwise peasant girl Gwenda; Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Raven) as the rough and dangerous Ralph; Megan Follows (Heartland) as Maud, a lady fallen from grace; and Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis) as the attractive and intelligent Philippa. Filming on the mini will take five months. It begins July 11 in Hungary, where the producers created a 12,000-square-meter backlot and built a whole medieval town and bridges, with additional location shoots in Slovakia and Austria.

After they got the rights to Pillars from Follett, Tandem also secured first right to negotiate a deal for his World Without End, which the company exercised. The $44 million budget for the mini is being funded by international presales and bank loans. Also factored in is so-called soft money in the form of tax credits, and the producers also are deferring most of their upfront fees. World Without End has already been sold to Germany’s Sat.1, UK’s Channel Four, Canada’s Shaw Media, Spain’s Cuatro, Austria’s ORF, Italy’s Sky Italia, Hungary’s TV2 as well as Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Germany’s Universum Home Entertainment for home entertainment. In the U.S., Starz, which aired Pillars, had an option on World but didn’t come to terms with Tandem, and the producers plan to search for an U.S. network later on the way they did with Pillars, which sold to Starz after it had been completed. Executive producing World are Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Rola Bauer, David W. Zucker, Tim Halkin, Jonas Bauer and John Weber.