Friday, 20 October 2017

Tale of the Riverbank

A critical part of UK history brilliantly brought to life

Written by Ben Felsenburg
As you warm your hands around the flames next month on Guy Fawkes Night and chortle with delight when the fireworks go up, spare a thought for those who fell to the sword, and to still crueller fates, in one of the bloodiest chapters in history. Gunpowder (Saturday, BBC1, 9.10pm) is a full-bodied account of the events that led up to a climactic turning point in the nation’s past, when King James I and his parliament would have been blown to kingdom come if the Catholic conspirators had succeeded in their plot to place on the throne a monarch who would answer to Rome.

Of course we all know basically how it turned out, but that doesn’t detract for a moment from the tension, thanks to the brilliance of the storytelling in Ronan Bennett’s script. Take the opening scene, told very much from the point of view of Robert Catesby (dashingly handsome Kit Harington) and his cousin Anne (Liv Tyler), as they nervously look on while their country house is searched for Catholic priests.

Soon terrible things are done in the name of the King and the Church of England – including, be warned, an execution scene that will test the resolve of viewers with the strongest stomachs – and Catesby resolves to take a terrible revenge. And if you’re impatient to be reminded in exact detail what happens next: the remaining two episodes will be on BBC iPlayer immediately after part one is finished.

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