BBC's Gunpowder Plot

The BBC has launched a three-part drama on the Gunpowder Plot, but this time the story is being told from a different perspective. Every school child in the UK will be able to tell you about Guy Fawkes, but this time the drama is told mainly from the point of view of Robert Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot. Written by Ronan Bennett, who has a PhD in seventeenth-century English history, the project was promoted and developed by the actor Kit Harington, recently famous for his role as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Harington, whose full name is Christopher Catesby Harington, claims an ancestral link with Robert Catesby.  He was keen that the complexity of the political situation of the times were portrayed, “In so many dramas on TV today you see anonymous bad guys without a narrative, but what we’re trying to do is to tell the story from the plotters’ perspective as well, to try to understand what pushes people to do horribly violent things. We wanted to tell a story from both sides.”

Two Jesuits play a role in the story, Fr Henry Garnet SJ and Fr John Gerard SJ.  The latter is famous for escaping from the Tower of London, one of the few men to do so. Fr Garnet was the superior of the Jesuit mission at the time, a forerunner to the provincial. He certainly knew Catesby, but he was against such a violent plot and was probably marginalised by the plotters.  He was executed in 1606 after he was arrested and interrogated by Robert Cecil, from the Queen's Privy Council.  The actor Mark Gatiss who plays Cecil in the series said, “My favourite scene is a big scene with Peter Mullan, who plays Father Garnet, the chief Jesuit. In the scene, Cecil has got everything he wants and Father Garnet is tortured. I have always been a big fan of Peter’s, so it was a privilege to do it. It was wonderful to see him work and to be opposite it.”.

The first episode will be shown on the BBC on Saturday night at 9.05.  The early media reviews point out that it is doesn’t spare the audience a realistic portrayal of the violence of the times.  In the first episode, there is a particularly gruesome scene depicting the execution of a priest.  This fresh look at a familiar story has been a pleasant surprise for many of the actors. Edward Holcroft who plays Thomas Wintour, a lawyer and Catholic convert, was asked what he had learned, “I found out so much more about the world of the time. I was surprised at how brutal it was and how much oppression the Catholics were under - I didn’t realise quite the extent of it.”

Read a review of Gunpowder on Thinking Faith

Read Dermot Preston SJ's narrative of the Jesuits implicated in the Gunpowder Plot

Read more about the Jesuits' history in Britain >>