Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Gunpowder review

I recently watched the BBC miniseries "Gunpowder", starring "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harrington in the lead role. The 3-part-series follows the misfortunes of the gunpowder plot ("Remember, remember, the 5th of November" and all of that). Episode 1 is the introduction, episode 2 everything starts to unravel, and episode 3 sees the conclusion. It's not like you wouldn't know the plot ultimately fails, right? Oops, spoiler alert. 
Now, knowing beforehand how the story ends is not a major stumbling block. "Titanic" and "Rogue One" did just fine with a perfectly obvious conlusion of its story. Nor does anyone seriously doubt whether or not the Rebels will blow up the Death Star. No, "not knowing how it ends" is not where suspense comes from. Not knowing how our characters will do it, or if they will manage to pull through or survive with their principals intact, now, that's where suspense is coming from.

Unfortunately, for this to work, you need characters or a plot I'm interested in. "Titanic" had melodrama to spare, and innocent wide-eyed kids to drown. "Rogue One" had the substance of the Rebellion on the line, and at least mildly interesting characters. "Gundpowder" has neither. There are Very Serious People walking about, spouting Very Serious Dialogue, but there's little the viewer can connect to, and thar unravels the whole enterprise. There's no scene where this is more evident than in the finale of the first episode, where a mole is murdered by a man dramatically anouncing "My name is...Guy Fawkes!" This calls home Benedict Cumberbatch's ill-fated attempt at playing Khan, and it fails for the same reasons.

Plus, while it's only three episodes long, it's still way too long. This could have easily been a feature-length film and be done with it, and yet, it insists on being three hours long. God, this thing is boring!

Matters aren't helped by the fact that the worst clichees are mobilized. The king is not only stupid, degenerate and decadent, but also gay. His gay lover is a fool. The evil councelor Cecil has a hunchback. The good guys are looking, well, like Kit Harington (who, we're told several times, is the best swordsmen in England, as if that was relevant for the story). The king's soldiers even smash a load of apple's out of a random woman's arms just to make the point they're evil.

The show also dabbles in what seems to be the standard set by "The Tudors" for pieces set in that period. There's torture porn. A LOT of torture porn. People are put on the rack (check), burned alive (check), pressed to death, waterboarded (seriously), and so on.

The series has quite the line-up, with Liv Tyler, John-Bradely West and Mark Gatiss among the most prominent other cast members. The actors do the best with the stilted lines they're given (Liv Tyler has some of the worst, where she has to talk about how weak her woman's heart is).

So, you can easily give this one a pass. That makes two duds now for Kit Harrington trying to follow up Game of Thrones (after "Pompeii"). He's running out of options fast, and given that he co-produced and conceived this one will not help matters.

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