Gunpowder Episode 2 – Review

Ratcheting up the tension like one of its brutal torture scenes, this explosive BBC drama continues on its captivating journey towards the failed plot.

★★★★☆

Would you be willing to die for your faith? And if you believe so strongly in your faith, do you trust that God will work to resolve things, or should you take up the fight yourself at any costs? These are the central questions asked in episode 2 of Gunpowder. Following on from episode one, which focused on the historical and religious context, episode two sees the key conspirators of Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Guy Fawkes (Kit Harington, Edward Holcroft, Luke Neal & Tom Cullen respectively) begin to come together to work out the details of their plot.

Adding to the historical context of the series are illuminating scenes between King James I (VI of Scotland) – played by Derek Ridell and his court negotiating with the Spanish over a peace treaty. Spain and England have been at war for years and the financial costs are mounting up. Both nations seek a peace treaty, but Philip III the King of Spain refuses to grant this because, as a devout Catholic, he feels it his duty to defend and protect the Catholics of England under persecution by James I and his parliament. These negotiation scenes between the Spanish side led by the Constable of Castile (Pedro Casablanc), and the English side led by Lord Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss) are excellently done, and make what could be quite dull scenes of diplomacy into snappy well acted scenes with each side attempting to double cross the other.

Another theme developed further in this episode is how far you are willing to go for your faith. As the plotters swear allegiance to each other and offer up their lives for their cause, the priest from episode one Father Garnet (Peter Mullan) staunchly advises against violence and action. Garnet is of the persuasion that as true believers, God will deliver them from their plight, while Father Gerard feels action regardless of its consequences is needed. This leads episode two to its scene of brutality – a torture scene in the Tower of London. Led by the menacing Sir William Wade (Shaun Dooley), Father Gerard is brutally tortured in a scene sure to see another barrage of criticism on social media. Episode one of the show was criticized by some for gratuitous use of blood and violence in its extended execution scene, and those viewers are unlikely to feel more at ease with the proceedings in this episode. The scenes however are historically accurate, with Catholics actually being tortured and killed in such brutal ways.

This episode also gives us a little more character and depth on the most famous plotter – Fawkes himself. In a scene between the main conspirators, each is asked in turn to declare his faith and offer his life. Fawkes is hesitant to do so, leading Catesby to question his devotion. He states “God knows I’m his servant, he’s heard 1000 times all he needs to hear from me.”. Fawkes refusal to fully commit himself in front of others shows an interesting dynamic between him and the other plotters. Does he truly care about the Catholic cause, or is he just a violent criminal seeking to kill and destroy for the sake of it? While we learn more about Fawkes’ character and his motivation (or lack thereof), one character who’s purpose is still not fully clear is Liv Tyler’s Anne Vaux. As Robert Catesby’s cousin she is clearly connected to the main characters and acts to an extent as the voice of reason, yet she has had no real impact on the narrative. Could it be that her inclusion was simply to shoehorn another famous face into the case for commercial purposes?

Gunpowder has so far managed to pack in huge amounts of background into two hours of television and manage to do it in an entertaining and engaging way. It strikes a good balance between plotting and action sequences which truly bring history to life. While the creators have taken a few liberties with the exact details –  substituting characters or changing them, it is broadly an accurate account of what we know of the plot. Once again, the performances of the cast are broadly excellent with Shaun Dooley’s William Wade the stand out performance as the determined and vile  Sir William Wade. With one more episode yet to come, this series is on track for a grand finale.

 

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Episode Three of Gunpowder premiers on BBC One on Saturday 4th November, to read the review click here. To read the review of Episode One please click here.

 

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