Gunpowder, Episode 1, Review: Guy Fawkes Ring

unpowder (BBC One) opened with two scenes of such tension and intensity as to make one wonder why the Guy Fawkes tale hasn’t been told more often. Between religious persecution, political intrigue, halberds and jerkins, the story has been crying out for a glossy, big-budget treatment.

Now it has a three-part series courtesy of Game of Thrones star Kit Harington, who is co-creator, executive producer and Guy Fawkes Ring

the lead as Robert Catesby, the historical leader of a plot more commonly associated with Guy Fawkes. Harington could be forgiven for thinking he was born for the role: through his mother’s line, he is a direct descendant of Catesby’s.

The curtain lifted on a stately home in Warwickshire in 1603. Mass was being taken but everyone expected the English inquisition. Guy Fawkes Ring

It duly arrived in the form of Sir William Wade (a growling Shaun Dooley). Wade’s search for the concealed clergy was given a full 15 agonising minutes. Whenever we thought our Pope-loving heroes were out of the woods, Wade would redouble his efforts.

We might have guessed how the search would end, but we couldn’t have guessed at the gruesome peine forte et dure we would be shown next, to say nothing of the hanging, drawing and quartering. The character of Lady Dorothy (Sian Webber) was seemingly based on Margaret Clitherow, who historically died 20 years before the events of the film. Some will argue the torture was gratuitous, but it served a purpose. The Church of England was not always as cuddly as it is these days.

After the gruelling half-hour, events settled into a more familiar rhythm. Plots were hatched in dark hallways and muddy streets. Guy Fawkes Ring

Sir Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss, as ever, playing a crooked bureaucrat) sent a supple young man to persuade King James (Derek Riddell) of the Catholic threat. If the intrigue wasn’t quite as finessed as in Wolf Hall, say, it was much more fun. Perhaps the greatest testament to the writing and direction is that Liv Tyler, not the first actress who springs to mind when one thinks of the early-17th-century Midlands, didn’t look too out of place.

Cruel as it feels to say this about his passion project, one weakness might be Harington. Over seven seasons of Game of Thrones his character Jon Snow has had greatness slowly thrust upon him. Harington’s mournful resting face, always on the verge of crumpling into tears, is a good fit. Here, we feared he couldn’t plot his way out of a phone box. Guy Fawkes Ring

As Catesby, he is obliged to take the initiative; Parliament won’t blow itself up. Perhaps the arrival of Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen, to a preposterous Hans Zimmer-style score) will light the fireworks. We need bangs, not whimpers.

he cast of talking heads assembled for Channel 4’s Saturday night documentary When Harry Met Meghan: A Royal Romance was most impressive. There was the Duchess of Cambridge reminiscing about the time she first met Prince Harry’s girlfriend (and future wife?), Meghan Markle, at the polo. And then up popped Markle’s mother, Doria Radlan, revealing with an affectionate chuckle some of her daughter’s embarrassing childhood habits. Guy Fawkes Rins

Just kidding! This lamentable, hastily stitched together portrait of Markle featured nothing of the sort. Insights (and I use that word in the loosest possible sense) came instead from, among others, the royal editor of the Sunday Express and an actress called Abby Wathen. Guy Fawkes Ring

Apparently Wathen once starred alongside Markle in a forgotten 2013 rom-com called – rather aptly – Random Encounters. “She’s just… vivacious,” gushed Wathen, flicking her hair.