×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: Kit Harington in HBO’s ‘Gunpowder’

For his first major foray into producing, Kit Harington stayed fairly close to the kind of story “Game of Thrones” fans are used to seeing him in.

Harington, who plays Jon Snow in the HBO drama, both stars and serves as a co-executive producer for “Gunpowder,” a solid and generally capable three-part series about the 17th century plot that almost literally brought down the English government. The actor has a personal connection to the material: Christopher Catesby Harington — better known as Kit — is a descendant of Robert Catesby, one of the architects of the infamous Gunpowder Plot, in which persecuted Catholics attempted to assassinate the Protestant King James I, along with hundreds of others in Parliament.

The contours of Catesby’s story, which form the core of “Gunpowder,” have echoes of Jon Snow’s bumpy saga: Sometimes the Warwickshire gentleman is so blinded by the importance of the quest he is on that he fails to make savvy or self-preserving choices. There’s an idealism and drive in both men, which others respond to, but there’s also a fair bit of misguided naivete in the way they conduct their affairs as well. Still, as Catesby, Harington gives “Gunpowder” a committed, dependable center. The character is not tremendously different from Jon Snow, aside from the fact that the widowed Catesby has a young son he hardly sees, so don’t expect a major departure from Harington’s work in “Game of Thrones.” But as his forebear, Harington is capable in the drama’s smattering of well-choreographed action scenes, and he’s quietly or ferociously determined the rest of the time.

Of all the twists and turns this long year has taken, a sexy depiction of Guy Fawkes may be one of the least expected developments. All things considered, this is not an unwelcome turn of events. The Gunpowder Plot is, of course, remembered every year in England as Guy Fawkes Day, but Catesby and his fellow plotters were much more involved in the plan to blow up the king than the man for whom the day is named. Still, Tom Cullen (who also wields a sword as a Knight Templar in History’s “Knightfall”) makes a strong impression as a feral, taciturn Fawkes. The charismatic Fawkes comes off as something of an action-adventure badass, and Cullen comports himself well in the realm of sword-fighting and tavern-brawling.

Fawkes’ backstory doesn’t get much attention in the trio of hourlong episodes; he is presented as a hard, bitter man eager to take on a very bloody job to some degree because he’s angry at the world. Catesby’s motivations are also made clear in the opening scenes, in which fellow Catholics he knows and loves are hunted, abused and given death sentences by the state. Throughout the miniseries, there are bloody and horrific scenes of the torture and public executions of English Catholics, and though these scenes are not shot in an exploitative way by director J Blakeson, viewers should be forewarned that the violence in “Gunpowder” is not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

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.

Those wanting a dose of “Thrones”-adjacent spycraft may enjoy the complex machinations of Robert Cecil, the king’s secretary of state. He and Lord Varys of King’s Landing would have much to discuss, given the similarity of their jobs. Mark Gatiss brings a sharp, watchful intelligence to the role, and “Gunpowder,” while far from ignoring the brutal lengths that Cecil was willing to go to, doesn’t depict the courtier as a one-dimensional villain.

As one would expect from an HBO miniseries one originally commissioned by the BBC — the production values are outstanding (creating period-perfect hats and authentic reproductions of armor may well be major growth industries for the U.K., based on a casual perusal of the last few years of television output). Though character development is not necessarily the limited series’ strongest selling point, there are excellent supporting performances throughout, especially from Sian Webber and Liv Tyler as steel-spined noblewomen and Peter Mullan as Father Henry Garnet, the leading priest in England.

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.

Limited series; 3 episodes (3 reviewed); HBO, Mon. Dec. 18, 10 p.m. 60 min.

Executive producers, Ollie Madden, Matthew Read, Ronan Bennett.

Cast, Kit Harington, Peter Mullan, Mark Gatiss, Liv Tyler, Edward Holcroft, Shaun Dooley, Tom Cullen, Robert Emms, Derek Riddell, Sian Webber, David Bamber, Kevin Eldon.

TV Review: Kit Harington in HBO's 'Gunpowder'

More TV

  • Series Mania: De Mensen, Reel One

    Series Mania: First Details on Co-Pro Pitching Project 'Capturing Big Mouth' (EXCLUSIVE)

    LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth. The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Make Progress in Contract Talks, No Blackout After Deadline Passes

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives went down to the wire Friday on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. The companies stayed in talks past the midnight Eastern contract expiration and the channels stayed up on AT&T’s platforms. Sources indicated early Saturday that the threat of a blackout had been averted. [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating show in which a group of singles will check into a tropical resort and compete to check [...]

  • 'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First

    'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First Docusoap on the State of Reality TV

    Netflix crossed another unscripted threshold on Friday with the launch of “Selling Sunset,” an 8-episode series that follows a group of real estate agents on the Sunset Strip. The show is believed to be the streaming service’s first docusoap, the now-ubiquitous format first popularized in the early 2000s by shows like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and [...]

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • 'Supernatural' to End After Season 15

    'Supernatural' to End After Season 15 on The CW

    “Supernatural” is ending after 15 seasons. Series stars Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins made the announcement in a video posted on Instagram on Friday. “We just told the crew that even though we’re very excited to be moving into our 15th season, it will be our last,” Ackles said. “15 years of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content