This is a BBC historical drama penned by Jimmy McGovern shown in 3 episodes starting in 1561 with the turbulent reign of Mary Queen of Scots and climaxing with the dastardly plot conceived by Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes et al to assassinate her son King James by blowing up Parliament on November 5 1605. It is a lively piece, full of political and religious intrigue and very bloody in parts - believe me, the sword is not spared. The directorial style, particularly in the final episode was at times a little disconcerting; some of the characters would suddenly turn and speak directly to the camera, but this was my only criticism.
Some great performances, in particular that of Robert Carlyle as a moody, intense and utterly ruthless King James. An unrecognisable Catherine McCormack (remember Murron, William Wallace's young wife in Braveheart?) plays a scheming, all-powerful Queen Bess ("DESTROY HIM!"), whose scenes are sadly brief but memorable. Clemence Poesy, a gorgeous young French actress, gives the character of Mary a naivete and sensuality previously unseen in period pieces covering this time-frame. British audiences will recognise a now fully-grown Paul Nicholls (young Joe Wicks from Eastenders) who clearly relished his scenes playing the doomed Lord Darnley. (A possible future Bond, perhaps). Steven Duffy does well as a treacherous and highly ambitious Lord James, half-brother of Queen Mary, while Kevin McKidd lends dignity and heroism to the character of Bothwell, lover of the young Queen. Tim McInnerny is previously well-known for his comedic performances in the historical comedy Blackadder, so it was a nice change to see him as the cold, calculating Cecil, most powerful man in England.
The accuracy of certain events will no doubt be disputed by historians (the execution of Queen Mary, for example: never before have I seen it portrayed as a plot by James VI to murder his mother in order to get his own hands on the English Crown). But it is a highly enjoyable period drama whose main theme, the eternal struggle between Protestant and Catholics, is used to great effect to portray the events leading up to one of the most infamous plots in British history, commemorated every single 5th November all over these islands ever since.
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