Kit Harington co-created, produced and stars in Gunpowder.
Kit Harington co-created, produced and stars in Gunpowder. Supplied

New historical drama forged in flame

THERE was much more to the incendiary events that led to Guy Fawkes Day than one man getting caught red-handed with a cache of explosives.

The new BBC mini-series Gunpowder explores the events which culminated in the failed assassination of King James I, focusing on mastermind, and devout Catholic, Robert Catesby.

Game of Thrones star Kit Harington produces and stars in the historical drama, drawing on his direct family lineages to both Catesby and Lord Harington, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time Catesby plotted to blow it up.

"This is one of my favourite periods of history," says Mark Gatiss, who plays the King's chief minister and spy master Lord Cecil.

Mark Gatiss as Lord Cecil in a scene from Gunpowder.
Mark Gatiss as Lord Cecil in a scene from Gunpowder. Supplied

"When I was a kid, what Guy Fawkes was to us was a scarecrow with a paper plate for a face that people would push around and beg for money. Then on November 5 we'd set him on fire.

"The fascinating thing is Guy was always the poster boy for it because he was caught red-handed, but Catesby is the progenitor of the plot."

Lord Cecil was the shadowy figure behind the throne, urging King James to stamp out Catholic traitors.

"Effectively he was the Prime Minister before the term was coined," Gatiss says. "The King was the King but he really ruled the country in terms of making the state tick over.

"There's a school of thought that he (Lord Cecil) let the plot mature and may have been behind it. Who knows?"

Despite Harington and Gatiss both starring in Game of Thrones and now Gunpowder, they have never shared a scene together.

Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, the man behind the Gunpowder Plot.
Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, the man behind the Gunpowder Plot. Supplied

"The only time I meet him (on camera in Gunpowder) is when I look at his severed head at the end," he says. "But he was there all the time as a producer. He was very encouraging and very helpful. It was quite a tough shoot. The weather was bad but the mud and the cold was good for the authenticity of it. He was obviously passionate about it."

Gatiss doesn't see Cecil, or Catesby, as the bad guy. Both men have their places on opposite sides of the Gunpowder Plot.

"It all depends on whose side you're on. Cecil is doing his job and Catesby is doing his," he says. "The show is morally ambiguous - taking sides is a mug's game.

"I was struck immediately by the modern parallels, and you don't have to force them, when it comes to terrorism and governments trying to protect themselves but also in doing so introducing extremely draconian legislation. Depending on which side you're on, those laws can look like another form of terrorism."

Gunpowder also stars Liv Tyler, Peter Mullan, Tom Cullen, Derek Riddell , Edward Holcroft and Shaun Dooley.

Gunpowder premieres on Tuesday at 8.30pm on BBC First.


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