The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
As a Catholic, it gets tiring after a while of seeing Catholicism, and even Christianity in general, get the short end of the stick time and time again in the media. It seems as though the world is watching our every move and figuring out how to make it seem bad or wrong.
To get away from this endless lambasting, it is nice to sit down and relax to watch a high-quality show with good writing as well as good production quality, two things that plenty of Christian or Catholic movies do not necessarily have. That is not meant to be too much of a jab at Christian filmmakers because you will see this in the secular movie market as well. This is where the message of the movie is the focal point, rather than telling a compelling story and providing a decent experience for the audience. The difference is that those movies in the secular market get circulated largely for “cringe comedy” purposes, while Christian movies get circulated to give praise to God.
So, in my time of need, I found a show called Gunpowder starring Kit Harington (from the infamous Game of Thrones) who plays Robert Catesby, and Liv Tyler (from Lord of the Rings) as Anne Vaux.
The story centers around Catesby, who is a Catholic, in the early 1600s. The Catholic Church is being suppressed by King James I. Priests are being captured, tortured, and then publicly killed in the town square, along with those who try to hide them.
So Catesby eventually comes up with the plan to kill King James I and the rest of Parliament. This was something that I did not know. Guy Fawkes is usually the name associated with the plan, even though Catesby was the one who devised it.
Catesby assembles his group of men and has each one swear to the cause of overthrowing the king by way of killing him and his parliament. But the plan is thwarted because one of the Constable of Castille’s men convinces a young priest that he is on his side. The priest then gives them the information that they needed in order to stop Catesby and his men.
Guy Fawkes gets captured trying to defend the explosives that were going to destroy parliament. Afterwards, Catesby and most of his men die in a final shootout. Fawkes and those who did not die during that battle were all brought to be executed. Fawkes was hanged and Thomas Wintour—one of Catesby’s best friends—was disemboweled.
This show depicted the brutality of the time period really well. And it showed something that plenty of people are in denial about: the persecution of Catholics. Believe it or not, Catholics are not always and have not always been at the top of every country’s hierarchy. In fact, Catholics have frequently been the persecuted rather than the persecutors, from Rome in the times of Saints Peter and Paul to Communist China.
Now, I do not know of what religion the creators of this show are, but it does not really matter in my mind. What they have created was a respectful depiction of the Catholics who were pushed to the limit and decided to fight back. But I do not only appreciate this show in the way that it depicts people of my faith. I also find it entertaining—well, as entertaining as watching the protagonists lose ever is. But I know that there are plenty of critics who do not feel the same.
The critiques I am going to talk about regarding this movie can be found here.
Suffice it to say that the critiques that I want to talk about can be boiled down into two things: a lack of fleshing out characters and motives, and a lack of tension.
Firstly, I thought that all of the motives were perfectly clear. The Catholics were being captured, tortured, and executed, so they needed to fight back. The Protestants were threatened by the fact that the Catholics were loyal to the Pope and God above the King, so they felt compelled to suppress the Catholics.
The characters were also given enough backstory to care about the conflict. Sure, Guy Fawkes was somewhat of a mysterious character and we do not know the details of why he is willing to risk his life for the cause, but, in a certain way, we do. His people—the Catholic people—were the victims of an oppressive and abusive government, and something needed to be done about it. We did not need to know if he had a friend or loved one die at the hands of the King’s men. He is not the focus of the story. The story is about Robert Catesby, the man who came up with the plot.
Secondly, the series did not lack a considerable amount of tension. To say that “[t]he biggest issue with Gunpowder. . .is that it’s dominated by excessively talky scenes that often unfold in hushed tones and undercut the urgency of what’s happening,” is such an incorrect statement that I have difficulty even coming up with something to refute it. But allow me to try.
To say that “talky scenes. . .undercut the urgency of what’s happening” does a disservice to some of the best movies ever made, such as A Man for All Seasons, Becket, and Casablanca. Would anyone consider any of these movies to be terrible? Possibly by today’s standards of CGI explosions and 45-minute action sequences with no real repercussions. But for people who know the real reason that movies are able to be compelling and how action sequences are able to have tension, “talky scenes” are not problematic at all.
On the one hand, the critics say that the characters and motivations were not fleshed out enough, then they also say that there were too many “talky scenes.” How else does one flesh out a character? You learn about characters by seeing how they interact with the other characters. Sure, you can also learn a great deal about a character by seeing how they react in high-stress situations like an action scene, such as Catesby’s final battle. You can also learn about characters through their death scene, such as Fawkes’ death, where he jumped off the ladder to the hanging platform, killing himself by breaking his neck.
Gunpowder is about a group of men who fought and died for something worth fighting and dying for—the possibility of the free practice of the One True Faith. It is a healthy reminder to show just how good we have it in America today. So let us be thankful for the good graces we receive for not having to be the ones to stand up and fight, but know that, someday, at some point, we may need to be the ones.