With Game of Thrones drawing to a close, the next choice for its profile cast must be a discerning move and for Kit Harington (Jon Snow) it is a passion project, Gunpowder.
Harington is a direct descendant of Robert Catesby, the leader of a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against the Protestant King James I. While many people are familiar with the story of Guy Fawkes, it was Harington’s own mother who would tell him not many people knew that Catesby was the leader of the plot (Catesby its even Harington’s own middle name).
Now he gets to play his ancestor, and serve as executive producer on a 3 part BBC drama scripted by Ronan Bennett (Top Boy, Hidden).
A top-notch cast has been assembled for this saga set in the early 1600s. It is a time when England was at war with Catholic Spain, forcing Catholics in England underground. When young Catesby (Harington) sees the torturous deaths of his kin he vows revenge on the King. Gathering all the best Jon Snow fury within him he begins to plot an assassination attempt on the throne (remind you of anything?).
But Sir Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss), Secretary of State, works to protect the King whether by brute force executed by a thuggish Sir William Wade (Shaun Dooley) or by overtures impressed upon the handsome young Philip (Hugh Alexander) who enjoys the intimacy of the King.
Meanwhile Jesuit priest Henry Garnet (Peter Mullan) endeavours to remain elusive from Royal arrest, whilst advising young Catesby on his next political move, and trying to bring him closer to his own young son, born as his mother died during childbirth.
Another sympathist is Anne (Liv Tyler), who remains loyal to the Papacy and Catesby even as she watches the fatal cost of insurgency surround her.
The politics and action makes for some grand drama, under director J Blakeson (The 5th Wave, The Disappearance of Alice Creed). The Jacobean setting allows for any number of immersive, period settings, whether in royal courts or impoverished back alleys. Crowd scenes are decked out in costumes that add to the overall effect of money on the screen, whilst Volker Bertelmann scores an ominous soundtrack.
Bennett’s script is also well-focussed. A lengthy opening scene helps set the scene when so many other dramas bombard with multiple characters.
Harington’s Catesby is but a stone’s throw from Jon Snow as hero, and I struggled to discern much shift in his acting style (not that I’m complaining, given he is so strong). Mark Gatiss has insidious fun as the villainous Cecil, right down to purring his lines from a head barely detached from his left shoulder. Tom Cullen will appear later as Guy Fawkes as the plot, literally, progresses.
Gunpowder is bigger on action and violence than the malevolent Wolf Hall, but it pitches more broadly with a solid understanding of its audience.
8:30pm Tuesday on BBC First.