REVIEW: Gunpowder – Episode 3

What Happened?

As the plotters put the final barrels of gunpowder in place in time for King James to open Parliament, along with a trunk filled with nails for added devastation, the Constable of Castile meets with Father Garnet in his London safe house and, for the sake of not making things worse for English Catholics, convinces him to give up the whereabouts of Father Gerard. Subsequent to his escape from the Tower, the younger priest had escaped to the coast to await safe passage to the Continent, and when he’s approached by the Spanish official he attempts to make a run for it. The Constable reassures him that Spain wishes to be involved in the plotters’ plans, however, and gets him to reveal how they intend to assassinate the King. In turn, the ambassador goes to Cecil with these details in order to secure the favourable negotiation terms they’d already discussed if Spain allowed James to pass his oppressive laws against his Catholic subjects.

Mindful that news of this plot against him needs to be passed on to James in the right way, Cecil has a letter delivered to a lord who was expected to be there for the opening of Parliament whilst Wade conveniently happens to be visiting. In it he’s told to keep away. Taking the letter straight to his monarch, Cecil sidesteps Herbert’s scepticism about the legitimacy of the correspondence, and induces James to come to his own conclusion that the plotters intend to blow him and his Parliament up with gunpowder. Straight away Cecil and Wade have soldiers searching London for the offending explosives and initially draw a blank after an old woman refuses to let them search Thomas Percy’s undercroft where the gunpowder is being stored. When they return, there’s a stand-off with Guy Fawkes, who’s been guarding the barrels and who sets the fuse as they barge through the door, before trying to fend them all off. He’s eventually overpowered though and the burning fuse is stamped out, and the ‘traitor’ is then taken away to be tortured in order to give up his co-conspirators.

Fawkes Gunpowder ep 3
Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen) lighting the fuse when the plot is discovered.

In the midst of all of this, before leaving London to head North and rally his allies for the aftermath of the plot, Catesby approaches his cousin, Anne, and implores her not to allow his son to become Cecil’s ward should they be unsuccessful. She reluctantly agrees, and later her and Father Garnet emotionally admit their feelings for each other the night before Wade and his men come for him at the safe house. Accepting his fate, but not wanting her to be implicated, he insists she get in the priest hole and allows himself to be taken away. In the meantime, Wintour rides North to tell his cousin that things haven’t gone to plan, which explains why his allies haven’t turned out for them. Aware that their own supply of gunpowder is getting damp, Catesby gives his men the option to flee to the coast if they wish, however all but one stay with him and follow him to the home where they know they’ll have their last stand-off. When they arrive they barricade the door and batten down the windows, also laying out their gunpowder in front of the fire to dry. It’s that act which is their undoing, as when the King’s men arrive to apprehend them, a stray shot hits one of the men and causes him to knock over candle, which is propelled towards the gunpowder. The resulting fire forces the men out of the building where eventually all of the plotters, including Catesby, are cut down with the exception of Wintour, who is taken away.

After enduring all manner of tortures, Fawkes eventually reveals his name and signs his infamous confession, still refusing to name anybody else. As he, Wintour and others are brought to the gallows for their horrific deaths, he steps off the ladder and hangs himself, whilst the other man is forced to endure being hung and then having his heart cut from his body. Subsequently, it’s revealed that Father Garnet has also been tortured, but he still refuses to reveal where Anne and Young Robert have fled to Cecil, who’s already been awarded wardship of the boy. Shortly before he is hung, the Catholic priest imagines Anne in the crowd and dies happily, as she and her cousin’s son whisk themselves away in a wagon. In the aftermath, James turns away from his implied lover, Sir Philip Herbert, and back to his Queen Consort, Anne of Denmark, also rewarding Cecil for his involvement in stopping the plot against him by appointing him to the Order of the Garter. The treaty with Spain is signed without further problems as well.

What Worked?

Danielle: Once again, almost all of it did, but most especially those quiet, little moments before everything went pear-shaped for the plotters. I liked the brief conversation between Catesby and Fawkes where the former quizzed the latter in order to get to know him. It’s interesting to me that these co-conspirators weren’t necessarily the best of friends, and that they had their own reasons for doing what they did, not just their religious convictions. In both cases, and for very different reasons, their families seemed to drive their actions. None of the tension abated either as Catesby and Co’s ‘design’ began to unravel, to the point that I almost wished that the fuse Fawkes lit would actually hit that barrel of gunpowder, blowing Cecil, Wade etc to smithereens, but obviously it was never going to be. Furthermore, given insight into the type of torture the most infamous plotter was forced to endure, it’s hardly surprising that he eventually relented and signed the confession; a signature that most of us become familiar with at school.

Marieke: Telling the story like it is, basically. The plot failed massively and they all had to pay the price. I thought the fight/suicide mission at the house was well executed and it looked great (although I had my doubts about the slow-motion scene to be honest). Also it showed well what a badass Fawkes eventually was, although the plotters were wiling to die for the cause and each other anyway. The big plus of this miniseries is that tension and true story-telling were never adversely affected by knowing the outcome. I think I mostly liked that the show worked towards a climax that never was. As my Fezzy colleague said, it was one of those series were you would start to hope the outcome would be different, however foolish that idea would was. I also wondered if Fawkes’ torture in real life wasn’t much worse than it was depicted here, or if that is some sort of folklore to make it all seem worse than it already was. These tortures and executions did make me wonder about why I found the first episode the worst (possibly because it was a woman), and in that way it made me think about my own relationship towards shows with violent scenes like these.

Anne Gunpowder ep 3
Anne’s (Liv Tyler) romantic attachment to Father Garnet seemed to come out of nowhere.
What Didn’t?

Danielle: I must admit, the romantic angle to Father Garnet and Anne’s relationship seemed to come out of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, both Liv Tyler and Peter Mullan absolutely did their best to sell it, and I understand that they wanted to offer a sound reason for the priest refusing to give up her and Young Robert’s whereabouts, but it should have been properly seeded earlier in the miniseries. I also found all of the scenes with James almost unbearably arch, and I’m not particularly sure why they felt the need to include the Philip Herbert subplot, other than to show how fickle the King could be with his affections. That aspect felt overcooked.

Marieke: I guess the open ending with lil’ Robert and Anne was a bit weird to me, since I have no clue what will happen to them without typing their names into Google. Nevertheless, it was not about them either, so I am not sure if they should have featured as much as they did or if they were just lose plot points to flesh out the other characters (Catesby and the Father for instance) more. I agree that the romantic angle could have been shown earlier on. Also, would a romance be the only reason to not give up their whereabouts? How about just saving a young boy and a woman from horrible deaths, or being adopted by horrible people?

The Verdict?

Danielle: Overall, Gunpowder was a success. The performances from the stellar cast were almost universally pitch perfect, especially in this final installment. Harington should be proud that he convincingly humanised his ancestor, Catesby, expertly moving away from a more black and white characterisation. The same goes for the other members of the cast. The real triumph here though is that the series acts as a jumping off point. I find myself wanting to delve back into a period of English history that I haven’t paid much attention to for a long time. I’d completely forgotten that Guy Fawkes’ roots lay in York, very close to my own ancestral links, and I find myself wanting to read more into what happened to Young Robert after he escaped Cecil’s clutches. All in all, a great job.

Marieke: A good ending for the show. What else can I say? BBC often have much shorter series than the US, even though the shorter seasons are catching up with the much longer ones, but this really was a mini miniseries. It worked because it is a mostly familiar story. I do wonder whether that means that the audience also fills in any gaps. Familiarity also means there is less need for introduction and fleshing out can start a little earlier (Catesby), or won’t happen at all (Anne, the Father). I was afraid the middle episode was a little filler, until it got tense as I described in the previous review. Gunpowder was a nice lead up to bonfire night, which gave it momentum. I also like Kit Harington’s personal connection to the story, as it felt it had been made with heart and also an eye for the truth. Generally, I enjoyed the series. It was not a massive eye opener or the best series ever, but there was enough to enjoy, make me think and look up more about the Gunpowder plot and its inventors online.

Our Fezzy Score: rsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fez

So what did you think of the last installment of the miniseries? Let us know in the comments…

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