‘Gunpowder’ Review Roundup: Kit Harington Miniseries Disappoints Critics & Audiences
Three-part HBO miniseries Gunpowder missed the mark with critics and audiences. The setting is 1605, as King James I sits on the throne and Catholics are being persecuted and put to death in the country. Kit Harington stars as Robert Catesby, a devout Catholic who decides to fight back after the ill-fated Gunpowder Plot fails. Tom Cullen co-stars as Guy Fawkes, who plays a surprisingly minor role despite Fawkes becoming a symbol for the battle against tyranny. Harington is actually a descendent of Catesby (the actor’s real name is Christopher Catesby Harington), and he also serves as creator and co-executive producer on the series, which is the most likely reason for Gunpowder‘s existence in the first place.
Despite being historically accurate, Gunpowder is a tough show to get through, and doesn’t quite delve into its characters enough to make viewers care. It brings brutal violence and torture into the picturesque British countryside. The stubborn leaders in the show may remind some of Game of Thrones, but the plot will pale in comparison, and may even leave some bored. Episode one of three premieres Dec. 18 at 10 pm on HBO.
GUNPOWDER REVIEW ROUNDUP
“While historically accurate, that doesn’t make Gunpowder a picnic to watch, or do enough to flesh out the characters. Catesby, for example, is distant from his son because of his wife’s death, a wrinkle that ultimately doesn’t add much to the central story of plotting against the government… HBO didn’t really hide the obligatory aspect of acquiring this BBC production by scheduling it over successive nights right before the holidays. While some might charitably see that as a welcome gust of original programming, it plays more like a way of briefly bringing Harington to his fans, helping tide them over until the next bracing wintry flurry of you-know-what comes.”
–Brian Lowry, CNN
“While played by fine actors, the other characters nevertheless fade too easily into the background. Guy Fawkes…[is] intriguing enough to make you want to know more about him, which makes it all the more frustrating that the series doesn’t seem interested in probing more deeply into his motivations. The most moving work in the cast comes from Tyler, the single female lead, who beautifully conveys Anne’s deep grief and sorrow within the confines of a role that makes her a passive observer. The biggest issue with Gunpowder, though, is that it’s dominated by excessively talky scenes that often unfold in hushed tones and undercut the urgency of what’s happening… A narrative leading up to such a climactic, controversial event should be infused with tension from beginning to end. Instead, this mini-series has too much in common with the Gunpowder Plot itself. It’s like a bomb that never gets lit and doesn’t come close to exploding.”
–Jen Chaney, Vulture
“The show’s scenes of torture — they go on to include the drawing of limbs and an early version of waterboarding — caused a stir in Britain, where Gunpowder was shown in October by the BBC. They’re tough to watch, but the real problem is that there isn’t a whole lot to grab your attention otherwise. The series is handsomely dressed, and [J] Blakeson has the blunt ability to ratchet up tension… But [Ronan] Bennett’s script, while it delineates the issues, doesn’t make us care about the people involved. Even capable actors like [Mark] Gatiss, Peter Mullan and Shaun Dooley can’t make their characters much more than Classics Illustrated cutouts. And at the center of it is Mr. Harington, who brings the same qualities to his ancestor Catesby as he does to Jon Snow: beautiful hair, soulful eyes and a one-size-fits-all blank expression that serves him for both mournful gazing and impassioned speeches.”
–Mike Hale, The New York Times
“One thing the miniseries does not do all that well is present even a brief distillation of the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics in England’s pre-industrial age, or offer up some of reasons that the latter often ended up as hunted pariahs at that time. The fact that the king is Protestant and Scottish and feels threatened by subjects of a different faith is the only real historical context offered… In the end, one of Gunpowder’s chief virtues, aside from its fine cast and handsome look, is its relative brevity (the three installments are presented on three successive nights). In an age in which thin stories are often stretched on the rack to produce 10 or 13 hours, Gunpowder lives fast, dies young, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.”
–Maureen Ryan, Variety
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