Foreign mercenary Guido Fawkes, and a group of English Catholic traitors plan to blow up the Palace Of Westminster and kill King James I in the early 17th century.Foreign mercenary Guido Fawkes, and a group of English Catholic traitors plan to blow up the Palace Of Westminster and kill King James I in the early 17th century.Foreign mercenary Guido Fawkes, and a group of English Catholic traitors plan to blow up the Palace Of Westminster and kill King James I in the early 17th century.
Robert Catesby is important yes, because he had the vision and the charisma to persuade twelve very different individuals to sign up for this madcap scheme. But that is part of the problem here: the vision is elusive and, in Kit Harrington's stolid performance there is precious little charisma. As for the remaining conspirators, they are blanks, even Guy Fawkes is nothing more than a by-the-numbers Tom Hardy tribute act. We know nothing about them or what drew them into the plot. In focussing so exclusively on the part played by his aristocratic ancestor, Harrington does not just do a disservice to the other conspirators (half of whom do not get speaking parts), he also drains all the tension from the conspiracy storyline. There should be clashing personalities and differing agendas, paranoia and suspicions, false starts and difficulties encountered; above all as the conspiracy reaches it's climax there should be jangling nerves. It's hard to care about the inner turmoil of characters you have not been properly introduced to, and in fairness the script does not even make the attempt.
Instead we get spurious action sequences, such as Catesby's rescue of John Gerard, who actually escaped from the Tower a decade earlier and without Catesby's assistance, and hackneyed Hollywood moments, such as the climatic sequence when Butch Catesby and the Wintourdance Kid charge out in slow motion onto the guns of the Bolivian police force.
Above all the focus is on Catesby and his motivations, all seen through a prism of modern sensibilities and contemporary relevance. And that again is a problem, as the history gets mucked around quite a lot in order to make these points. If you are going to depict atrocities in prurient detail and justify them as providing the context for your character's actions, then you can expect to be called out if you over-egg the pudding.
The look of the show is good, if a little underlit, but the script is hack work and the performances, for the most part (Liv Tyler as Anne Vaux is a luminous exception) either soapily two-dimensional or pantomime broad. The ubiquitous Gatiss renders a particularly ripe King Rat as that fascinating statesman Robert Cecil. (Historical accuracy would incidentally have been better served by a shorter Cecil and a taller Catesby.)
Since Harrington is milking his moment in the sun to get vanity projects commissioned on the lives of his ancestors, I shall look forward with eager anticipation to a three-part drama on the inventor of the flush toilet, an achievement worthy of celebration. Would that someone at the BBC had pulled the chain on this production.
- Nov 5, 2017