The BBC's new historical drama chronicling the rise of Guy Fawkes is far from an educational program you want to children to watch - in fact, it's far from a program I felt comfortable watching. With its Game of Thrones-level gruesomeness, Gunpowder is not a show for the faint-hearted, or the easily queasy, but it does create an interesting and historical retelling of one of the most famous failed coups in history.
1605. London - King James I of England (Derek Riddell) has been repressing the Catholics throughout England. Robert Catesby (Kit Harrington) and Thomas Wintour (Edward Holcroft) plot to overthrow the King and his repressive government and throne the young Princess Elizabeth and reclaim the Catholic faith to England. Catesby, with the help of the mysterious Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen), devises a plan to blow up Parliament. Ronan Bennett, Kit Harrington, and Daniel West bring back to life the infamous Gunpowder Plot, with all of its treasons and plots.
Within the first half an hour of J Blakeson's gritty historical drama, there is a brutally crushed woman, a violently beheaded priest, and a rather sad looking Kit Harrington. This intensely violent program may reflect the brutal society of 17th Century Britain, but it just may be too intense for TV programming (mind you - this is coming from someone who has never seen an episode of Game of Thrones). The extra level of gore makes you walk away from your screen, unable to stomach so soon after dinner. But once you get over the hump of what is probably the most distressing ten minutes of TV in 2017, what you are left is a rather intriguing and informative drama.
Gunpowder, in classic British fashion, takes a boring history lesson and turns it into a fascinating three-hour adventure through time past. Gunpowder is fast pace and constantly gripping, compared to other drab and methodical 17th Century dramas. Blakeson finds a nice balance between action and exposition and is able to liven up a centuries-old tale.
Also in classic British fashion, the creative team behind Gunpowder have designed gorgeous sets and costumes, that conjures up a beautiful retelling of Britain's past. But where the show falls flat is in its performances. Considering the stature of its cast, Gunpowder has a mix-match of performances that aren't up to par with its gripping story. Every performance - minus the dynamic performance of Peter Mullan as Father Henry Garnet - is one dimensional, lacking any dynamism or passion. In particular, Kit Harrington lacks the dominant command of Robert Catesby. Instead of giving a performance that is commanding and full of rage, Harrington gave a performance that was meager, weak, and lacked affirmation. A bold, brutish, and brazen performance would have better suited Catesby angry character than Harrington's quite and subdued performance.
Gunpowder has the trademarks of a great British costume drama: it's bold, it's historically accurate, and it's on the BBC. Despite its not so great qualities, Gunpowder is a gripping and insightful drama. Its a perfect watch this Bonfire Night - just exclude the kids.
Gunpowder continues on BBC One Saturdays at 21:10