This seasonal Saturday drama dramatises the staple of primary school history lessons: the GUNPOWDER plot.
Kit Harrington stars as Robert Catesby, leader of the Gunpowder plot (not Guy Fawkes, although he does pop up at the end of the episode). Catesby’s stoicism, nobility and ability to rally troops are more than a bit reminiscent of Jon Snow but he’s decidedly less annoying here. Maybe the fact that Harrington’s channelling his ancestor (he is a relation of Catesby on his mother’s side) helps.
Catholics are being persecuted throughout England and there is some authentically nasty torture.
Sian Webber is full of strength and dignity as Lady Dorothy Dibdale, who is stripped then crushed to death, refusing to denounce her faith. This is nothing compared to the torture that follows; viewers who are sensitive to gore would do well to look away during the second torture scene.
The most intriguing character is deformed spymaster Lord Cecil (Mark Gatiss), who is mocked by the King and his courtiers, yet he knows how to influence the king as he informs Sir Phillip that the king favours him in ‘…all manner of manly pursuits’. Gatiss’ sly humour injects some fun into what could potentially have been just a vanity project (Harrington is credited as a co-creator and executive producer).
Liv Tyler’s character, Anne Vaux (Catesby’s cousin), is lurking mainly in the background at the moment; hopefully she’ll get her chance to shine in the upcoming episodes.
With its leading man, violent rule and brewing resentment against the throne, Game of Thrones comparisons are inevitable, but superficial. The focus of Gunpowder is squarely on politics and religion for the moment (the King’s desire to keep peace with Spain means that he can’t cull the Catholics).
The three-part series will stop just short of the big Bonfire Night itself, with the final episode showing on Saturday 4th November. If you can’t remember the 4th November, the whole series is available now on BBC iPlayer.
- Aired on BBC1, October 21 2017 at 21:10.
The series is now available to order on DVD.