THE MINISERIES “Gunpowder”
WHEN | WHERE Monday-Wednesday at 10 p.m. on HBO
WHAT IT’S ABOUT It’s 1603 England and following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the English Catholics have been brutally suppressed under the new monarch, King James I (Derek Riddell). Then a young Warwickshire nobleman, Robert Catesby (Kit Harington), decides to take action. As a Catholic, he vows to protect and restore the faith and eventually enlists the help of Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen), an expert in explosives and other dark arts.
A plot is hatched, but Catesby and his group must evade the King’s storm troopers, led by Secretary of State Lord Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss) and his ruthless subaltern, William Wade (Shaun Dooley), chief of the Tower of London, where heads roll under his command. The Guy Fawkes plot was famously foiled, and to this day, the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (Nov. 5). (Harington, by the way, is also distantly related to Catesby.)
MY SAY Jon Snow will or will not die one of these days, but until such time as his mortality is decided and the final season of “Game of Thrones” arrives, the actor who plays him needs to think about a second act. That actually begins Monday night. As a next step, albeit a baby one, Robert Catesby makes sense.
Both he and Snow share that same inflexible sense of rectitude. They’re implacable in the face of evil, too. When the White Walkers approach, or the King’s henchmen pound on the door, they both reach for the hilt of their sword. They’ll not go down without a fight, or a lofty reaffirmation to some lofty ideal. Catesby isn’t exactly a stretch for Harington. He’s had a lot of practice.
But similarities do end there. We don’t know how Snow (or “GoT”) ends, but we do know what happens to poor Catesby and his plotters. England hasn’t exactly celebrated Guy Fawkes the past 400 years because he won. It’s therefore incumbent on “Gunpowder” to at least energize their failure, or turn it into an epic tilt at an epic windmill. An implied point of view might be helpful, too. If evil prevailed all those years ago, might England have been celebrating Guy Fawkes Day for all the wrong reasons?
Based on a script by Ronan Bennett and directed by J Blakeson (last year’s “The 5th Wave”), “Gunpowder” has no such ambitions, or much of any ambition at all beyond getting Harington on screen as often as possible, to look pained or soulful or troubled or just plain bored. He’s a narcotized Jon Snow in a narcoleptic of a miniseries that nods off at times, and seems maddeningly unaware that viewers will be induced to do the same thing.
While they’re both hardly inimical, “Gunpowder” wants to honor the record instead of quicken the pace. That means lots of expository dialogue about the Spanish Crown, and the plight of English “Papists,” and the intricacies of various plots. The conspirators meet in darkened corners, where they mutter about God and country, and the future they will reclaim. While straightening his wide-brimmed black hat, the King’s chief enforcer, William Wade, sneers and snarls, or tortures the occasional Catholic. Also, in a demonstration that jurisprudence has evolved over the past several centuries, there’s one scene where a priest is drawn and quartered. It’s both gruesome and redundant, but at least it beats the alternative — stupefaction (yours).
BOTTOM LINE A gluepot of a miniseries with good actors and no pulse.