A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.
Love historical period dramas, and BBC have shown numerous times that they can be very good at them, a particularly note-worthy recent example being 'Wolf Hall'. The story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot is a very interesting part of history, something that was appreciated more by me once learning of the significance of the annual Bonfire Night.
'Gunpowder' is not BBC at their best though. It is interesting enough and there are a lot of good elements here (far more so than has been credit for by some reviewers), but it could have been much more explosive than it actually turned out to be. The criticisms are understandable, though the purported anti-Catholicism and propaganda ones for my tastes have been blown out of proportion.
Starting with the good things, the best thing about 'Gunpowder' is the production values. They are nothing short of splendid, especially the sumptuous costumes and atmospheric scenery/set design that actually give the feel of the viewer being transported to the early 17th century and being there as unseen observers. The music doesn't intrude but has presence and atmosphere.
Parts of the script do intrigue and provoke thought and the storytelling does have compelling and suspenseful moments. The violence and executions are harrowing and are not for the faint hearted, but that would have been the case at the time because executions were brutal then, even more so than depicted.
Mostly the acting is fine, especially from charismatic Tom Cullen, dignified Liv Tyler (who is not as out of place as one would think) and Shaun Dooley enjoying himself.
Kit Harrington and Mark Gatiss are a little more uneven but do have impressive moments. Harrington is a little flat at first but once the character grows so does his acting to something more brooding. Gatiss is too cartoonish in places, but at other times he is quite creepy.
However, the script does feel underdeveloped and tonally unbalanced, both too bland and too broad. It also too talky, Episode 2 especially is too heavy in talk and rambles, and it does affect the pacing which can be dull.
Characterisation is also not as rich as it could have been, too many of the characters are too one-dimensional and one doesn't really get to know them. The storytelling has some harrowing, exciting and suspenseful moments, but they could have come more consistently, the tone could have been more balanced and even and the pace and script could have been far tighter. Some parts seemed a bit too neat and clean.
Historical inaccuracy has also been a criticism directed at 'Gunpowder'. Actually try to avoid that criticism if it can be helped, but it is hard to ignore it here when it is a significant historical event.
Overall, interesting and has impressive elements but doesn't explode enough. Just my very humble and respectful take. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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