Gunpowder Review

The first episode of the new BBC 3-part series is mired in controversy, but is a tense and intriguing watch.

The show is set in early 17th century Britain, amid the persecution of British Catholics, and the series investigates the failed “Gunpowder Plot”, in which a group of young men attempted to destroy Parliament.

The episode is centred around Robert Catesby (Kit Harrington), taking his first steps in the creation of his team and plot against the British government, and the strained relationship between Britain’s Protestant King James 1st (Derek Riddell), and Spain’s Catholic monarchy. With both strands of the episode engaging and intriguing throughout.

The opening scene depicts an illegal Mass being undertaken by a Catholic family in 1603, as we are introduced to many of our main characters, including Catesby, his cousin Anne Vaux (Liv Tyler), and Priest Henry Garnett (Peter Mullan).

We are then thrust into an extremely tense interrogation by Sir William Wade, as Shaun Dooley revels in portraying the terrifying enforcer. This entire scene is laden with a lingering anxiety, and this lasts for much of the hour-long episode’s opening half.

The sense of dread created by the brooding and intense performances is evident most pertinently in this scene, but also continually during the episode, and this is undoubtedly Gunpowder’s greatest strength.

However, although the story could be considered controversial due to the basic plot and protagonists, the programme has been criticised in the context of violence, with some viewers believing the gore displayed in the show to be excessive and unnecessary.

An execution scene around the mid-point is the chief instigator of this opinion. Indeed, the violence displayed in this scene is extremely visceral, but it could be argued that the modern television viewer is more de-sensitised to blood and violence than ever before.

Another defence of the show has been the praise for its historical accuracy. This accuracy means it can be argued that the brutality of the violence is necessary, in order to fully understand the scale of Catholic persecution in 17th century Britain.

We’re introduced late in the episode to the mysterious figure of Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen), the most infamous of those involved in the Gunpowder plot. The development of his character in the next two episodes is another reason, along with the intense atmosphere created in the first episode, to check out the new BBC series.

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