Liam Rudden: Brilliant but brutal drama proves explosive viewing

A NAKED elderly woman crushed to death and a trainee priest hung, drawn and quartered, all depicted in graphic detail ensured that Gunpowder, the latest dramatic vehicle for Kit Harington, arrived on TV screens with a ferocious impact.

Thursday, 26th October 2017, 5:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 11:38 am
Kit Harington as: Robert Catesby

Twitter was afire with comments, many from Tweeters shocked and horrified by the graphic reenactment of history.

Maybe it’s because we don’t like to be reminded that little has changed over the centuries; the same barbarity continues to be seen as acceptable in the name of ‘religion’ by the few.

Or maybe it’s because TV drama, especially BBC series, have developed a tendency to play it safe in recent years.

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Gunpowder, co-produced by its star and Kudos, the production company behind the spy thriller Spooks, certainly reinforces the Beeb’s reputation for commissioning stunning looking historical drama.

However, where swash-buckling costume dramas such as The Musketeers always looked great but often failed to satisfy when it came to story-telling and performances, Gunpowder, on the whole, seems to have raised the bar so far.

Yes, the now obligatory mumbled whisper that so many young, and sometimes not so young, actors mistake for emoting is evident occasionally, and yes, there is the odd spectacularly hammed-up performance that upstages all those it comes in contact with, but the majority of the players, leads and supporting artistes alike, are fully invested in the adventure.

And what a cast it is, any TV show that can attract the likes of Peter Mullan and Liv Tyler to put their signatures to a contract has to have something special in its DNA.

As for Harington, well, unsurprisingly it feels like a labour of love.

The 30-year-old, until now best known as Jon Snow in Games of Thrones, is a direct descendant of the character he plays, Robert Catesby.

Catesby, an ancestor on Harington’s mother’s side, master-minded the Gunpowder Plot.

Guy Fawkes may be the man remembered for the doomed plan, but it was Catesby who was actually the leader of the 1605 attempt to assassinate King James I of England by blowing up The House of Lords.

Which means, I guess, we can expect more fireworks in the final two parts of Gunpowder.

With the opening episode creating such a furore it will be interesting to see if the brutal reality depicted continues or if it was purely an attention grabber.

I suspect, and hope, that it is the former.

Scripted by Ronan Bennett, an author who pulls no punches, and directed by J Blakeson, who understands pacing and suspense better than most TV directors today, I’m almost tempted to cheat and watch the last two parts, which are already available on iPlayer.

But that would spoil the suspense, after all, what else are cliff-hanger endings for...