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  • This is a BBC historical drama penned by Jimmy McGovern shown in 3 episodes starting in 1561 with the turbulent reign of Mary Queen of Scots and climaxing with the dastardly plot conceived by Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes et al to assassinate her son King James by blowing up Parliament on November 5 1605. It is a lively piece, full of political and religious intrigue and very bloody in parts - believe me, the sword is not spared. The directorial style, particularly in the final episode was at times a little disconcerting; some of the characters would suddenly turn and speak directly to the camera, but this was my only criticism.

    Some great performances, in particular that of Robert Carlyle as a moody, intense and utterly ruthless King James. An unrecognisable Catherine McCormack (remember Murron, William Wallace's young wife in Braveheart?) plays a scheming, all-powerful Queen Bess ("DESTROY HIM!"), whose scenes are sadly brief but memorable. Clemence Poesy, a gorgeous young French actress, gives the character of Mary a naivete and sensuality previously unseen in period pieces covering this time-frame. British audiences will recognise a now fully-grown Paul Nicholls (young Joe Wicks from Eastenders) who clearly relished his scenes playing the doomed Lord Darnley. (A possible future Bond, perhaps). Steven Duffy does well as a treacherous and highly ambitious Lord James, half-brother of Queen Mary, while Kevin McKidd lends dignity and heroism to the character of Bothwell, lover of the young Queen. Tim McInnerny is previously well-known for his comedic performances in the historical comedy Blackadder, so it was a nice change to see him as the cold, calculating Cecil, most powerful man in England.

    The accuracy of certain events will no doubt be disputed by historians (the execution of Queen Mary, for example: never before have I seen it portrayed as a plot by James VI to murder his mother in order to get his own hands on the English Crown). But it is a highly enjoyable period drama whose main theme, the eternal struggle between Protestant and Catholics, is used to great effect to portray the events leading up to one of the most infamous plots in British history, commemorated every single 5th November all over these islands ever since.
  • After viewing the first two episodes (shown together on the UK terrestrial channel BBC 2), I wanted to recommend the series.

    The title brings to mind "Guy Fawlkes", but the mini-series is actually the story of Mary, Queen of Scots - a tale which is amongst the most dramatic in the whole of Scottish history.

    Given that all Scottish school children study this period in great detail (myself included!), the responsibility of all concerned is high.

    It was with great delight that I found the series an honest and compelling human drama, and the (historically known) actions of the characters made perfect sense in the light of the characterisations and script.

    I was concerned that the whole affair would be dragged down by either the weight of historical authenticity or the need to create a drama for modern sensibilities.

    The historical ambiguities in the character of Mary were perfectly realised as drama: the transition from a French childhood to become a champion of the Scottish cause was credible. Her involvement in political assassinations was cleverly presented as "for the good of Scotland" rather than as cold-hearted scheming. So in this drama Mary is a heroine, though historians will argue endlessly on this one. My recall of school history is not good enough to know where liberties have been taken with historical fact.

    Some flaws were present - the character of David Rizzio was not fleshed out sufficiently. The feel of the production could be criticised a little as a McGovern "housing estate drama" in costume e.g. the simple-minded Protestant/Catholic vein pervading the production. However, as the drama really gets going through the romance between Mary and her "bit of Scottish rough" (Lord Bothwell), perhaps one should acknowledge the universality of the human condition.

    This is not an "Elizabeth" which re-wrote the book for cinematic historical realisations. However, "Gunpowder, Treason and Plot" is a likable and worthy production, which may not be absolutely top notch, but does seem a little tucked away on BBC 2 on a Sunday evening, when it deserves wider viewing.

    I await the remaining episodes with interest.
  • From the script and from Robert Carlyle's performance, you'd have no inkling that James I was anything other than a degenerate, evil homosexual. Therefore you lose interest in watching the show because his character has no redeeming qualities. Contrast this portrayal with a quote from an historical website: "Along with Alfred the Great, James is considered to have been one of the most intellectual and learned individuals ever to sit on the English or Scottish Throne. Under him, much of the cultural flourishing of Elizabethan England continued; individuals such as Sir Francis Bacon (afterwards Viscount St Albans) and William Shakespeare flourished during the reign. James himself was a talented scholar, writing works such as Daemonologie (1597), The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and A Counterblast to Tobacco (1604)." ( There was absolutely no evidence of anything but venality and repulsiveness in the depiction of James I in this TV show.
  • As soon as I saw the text "Written by Jimmy McGovern" flash up on the promos, I knew that this would be something special. Having watched the first season of McGovern's "Cracker" I knew that this would be history with true grit, venomous dialogue, and buckets of conflict. I wasn't disappointed.

    Judging by the other comments some people found McGovern's style too harsh, that he belittles the both Royal family and the Protestant and Catholic branches of church, and overuses sex and violence. It's a fair criticism, but so many over-starched interpretations of British history have been made that this gritty drama becomes a breath of fresh air.

    The show is evenly divided into two parts, both riveting stories. The first is the reign of Queen Mary I of Scotland, a French Catholic girl now ruling over Protestant Scotland. Clemence Poesy turns in a brilliant performance as the young queen faced with her conniving half-brother Lord James, Queen Elizabeth I of England, her misogynistic husband Lord Darnley, and her brash suitor the Lord Bothwell. The whole story is turbulent, as a state of war with the English gradually precipitates.

    The second part is much higher drama, though. It is concerned with Mary's son James I, a repugnant, bitter cripple, who promises the Catholics tolerance, and then reneges on his promise at the behest of the manipulative Lord Cecil, one of the most powerful men in England. This proves the catalyst for the famous attempted bombing of the houses of parliament on November 5, lead by the ruthless Spaniard Guy Fawkes.

    It is true that McGovern revolves the entire show about the us-and-them viewpoint of the Catholic and Protestant, BUT this works to great effect. Emphasising the conflict in this war really ups the ante for the drama, making for some very high-octane television. Add to this brilliant performances by Robert Carlyle, Tim McInnerny, Kevin McKidd, Sam Troughton, and Michael Fassbender (Playing Guy Fawkes as a silent Clint Eastwood type delightfully)

    This is, without a doubt, the greatest telemovie I've ever seen. However, if you're at all squeamish this definitely isn't for you: this is history with the filthy bits left in for a change...
  • One of the best historical dramatisations I've ever seen: McKidd's passion is palpable, as are the blood and gore of the Catholic purges when James I came to power, the dust and dirt on costumes, the primitivism of the lifestyles--all seem as realistic as could possibly be. Of course, we have nothing but the literature of the time to document what life was really like, but this seems to me a fine imagining of the vulgarities, barbarisms, discomforts, passions and violence of the time. I can't think of a better film to introduce young people to the history of this turbulent period--it will certainly grab their attention!
  • paul2001sw-126 March 2004
    Given the pronounced anti-Catholic bias of most contemporary English history, one might think that any attempt to redress the balance might be welcomed. Alas, Jimmy McGovern's drama, 'Gunpowder, Treason and Plot', proves this not to be the case. Its greatest problem is its unfortunate tendency to encapsulate complex political issues in slogans, and those slogans, in turn, in characters - the portrayal of John Knox (who does little more than storm about and utter his most famous quote) exemplifies this. This, and the number of historical liberties taken (James I, for example, discovers the Gunpowder Plot in person) make the story a less accurate guide to the past than even 'Braveheart'.

    The series is not helped either by some substandard acting. Clemence Posey, with her bizarre French-American-Scottish accent, is mostly inaudible as Mary Queen of Scots and seems to take most of the cues for her performance from Mila Jovovitch's disastrous turn as Joan of Arc in 'Messenger'. Sira Stampe is robotic as James I's wife, while Robert Carlyle's James is as unconvincing as he is unhinged. Also detracting from our enjoyment are the understaffed battle scenes, the histrionic tone, and a decidedly anachronistic portrayal of sexuality.

    Surprisingly, given McGovern's own politics, there's almost no hint of republicanism here, although within a few decades Britain was engulfed by a civil war that disputed absolutely the relevance of monarchy: perhaps this is ignored because it was a Protestant rebellion. Instead, we get a boring, linear drama of good queen Mary, bad queen Elisabeth and mad king James. I'm still certain that somewhere, behind the propaganda, there's an interesting story - how did hatred of Catholocism spread so rapidly when only a handful of years previously, everyone in England was Catholic? But this film does little to open one's eyes.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It might be useful to remember that on returning to Scotland, Mary had a past as Dauphine and Queen of France (wife, 1548-1560, of Francis II, son of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici, who died in 1560 after just one year of reign). Though Catherine de' Medici's court was quite a colourful place, it was surely not such a dreary place to be "in exile". And what about the Queen of Scots, ex Queen of France, jumping to the saddle and riding astride? In the end, it might be better to invent new names for loosely history-based figures of fiction, rather than proceed to these tiresome gaps and anachronisms which just tend to confuse spectators.
  • MsKris21 September 2004
    You'd think that combining a good director, excellent actors and fascinating

    historical events would make for an entertaining miniseries -- but you'd be

    wrong. The writing stank, the history was worse than inaccurate, and I can

    barely believe excellent actors such as McKidd and Carlyle were able to deliver some of their lines with a straight face. Historical inaccuracies aside, the story itself was delivered so disjointedly it was downright choppy -- almost as if an entirely different director and writer made each half. Skip this one.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I found this a very compelling and fascinating movie. As a non-Britain I lack sufficient historical knowledge to judge the accuracy of the script, but to me it all was quite convincing. I was only disappointed that the story was so harshly split up in two chronological halves, separated by some decades in time, I would like to have known how James grew up and became the person that he was at the beginning of part two. There are other differences between both parts of the series. In the first part the story evolves gradually, new people are introduced and you can watch the drama grow. The second part is more abrupt, like we have to board on an already moving train, there's an abundance of new characters (for instance the whole subversive group around Guy Fawkes) who are hardly introduced to us, so (for me at least) it was much harder to follow the historic goings on. The incidental, and rather unexpected direct facing of the viewer by some of the protagonists was confusing and seemed unnecessary, and strangely enough it it only occurred two or three times at the beginning of the second part, as if the writer and director themselves soon lost interest in this curious and a bit pretentious directorial ingenuity.

    For the rest I very much enjoyed this movie, the settings are beautiful, there's no reluctance in showing some heavy violence (which enhanced the authenticity of the story) and the acting is overall of the highest level. I especially want to mention Clémence Poésy as Mary Queen of Scots, she is not only beautiful but gives a stunning performance as the young, at start insecure, but rapidly maturing queen. Her dealing with the the harsh and mistrusting protestant Scots, her sad marriage with an abusive power-hungry lord Darley (Paul Nicholls in a great performance!), her passionate liaison with Bothwell, it's all portrayed in a very moving and believable way. Steven Duffy as her scheming half-brother Lord James was equally great, and Kevin McKidd as Bothwell reminded me of Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, a mixture of rugged charm, wild passion and relentless violence in protecting his love: the strong and reliable suitor that every girl (and some boys!) dreams about!! The absolute star of the second half is Robert Carlyle as King James. That's partly due to the intelligent script, that gives this king an intriguing ambivalent character: hunger for power, at the same time awareness of his own sad posture and his shortcomings as a ruler, scolding his poor wife (who soon makes the best of it, developing into a Lady MacBeth-like power of her own) and mimic every bit of advice he get's (especially from the ominous Lord Cecil) out of lack of confidence. But Robert Carlyle turns this character into a real life person of flesh and blood in a totally convincing and almost blood-chilling way, like a Shakespearean Richard III, evoking admiration mingled with repulsion, while you can see the madness growing on him. He impressed me very, very much.

    About the homosexual tendency in this version of King James there're already said some things here, I don't know anything about the historical backgrounds of it, but for me there was no need whatsoever to bring that in. Indeed, the forcing by the king of a lord into an (insinuated) royal blow-job looked anachronistically modern to me and a bit awkward, to say the least, and the portrayal by Robert Carlyle certainly didn't need this extra psychological excuse for his character-development.

    I read some indignant comments here on the Queen Anne by Sira Stampe, but I liked her portrayal very much, she gave this stiff and disregarded queen poise and strength and she brought in the few laughs that at times gratefully counterbalanced the heaviness of this long (but certainly not over-long!) and dramatic story.

    All in all a great watch and I rank it 9 out of 10.
  • Another entry in the revisionist-history-as-told-with-human-body-fluids school of European melodrama. Whereas "Elizabeth" showed the execution of the queen's enemies as a recreation of "The Godfather"'s wedding-cum-massacre scene, this anachronistic masterpiece revels in outdoing Quentin Tarantino in execrable behaviour, gratuitous gore, meaninglessness and sexual perversion. Not even enjoyable as sadistic pornography, this portrayal of James VI of Scotland (James I of England) as an R-rated video game Richard III will give you nightmares and the heaves. O times, O mores! I wonder how these films and mini-series ("Vatel", "The Affair of the Necklace", "Le Roi danse", "Saint-Cyr", etc.) get written. Do producers lure satanic literary failures with delusions of artistic misogyny and misanthropy and lock them up in unholy writing workshops, with promises of money and drugs, until someone comes up with a suitably repulsive script? Whatever the method for this madness, it works, the plays get produced and they make money. Some people even like them.

    You know there is something fundamentally flawed with this "historical" production when the list of stuntmen is longer than the list of speaking parts and the songs on the soundtrack are in Romanian...
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a lover of British History, and a as fan of some of this movie/mini series' more prominent actors i.e. Robert Carlise, Kevin McKidd and Richard Coyle, I was looking forward to this adaptation of the circumstances leading up to the events of November 5th 1605 with great anticipation. However, I was somewhat disappointed.

    It was not so much the historical inaccuracies, these are now somewhat expected, as it seems these days History just isn't interesting enough just to be shown as it actually happened, and needs dumbing down or tweaking.

    I was more disappointed at the overall tone of the piece as it is openly biased in favour of the catholics and as a result history seems to have been completely rewritten to make England, Queen Elizabeth I, Kinf James I and every other protestant in the world evil conspirators and murderers.

    In the same vein we are shown how Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and the rest of his gang of Catholic TERRORISTS, were really only martyrs to a great cause and were forced into this action by a disfigured, cruel, oppressive and homosexual sex predator of a King, who lied to the people and deserved to get his evil arse blown to smithereens anyway.

    It is also seems to be anti-English and Pro-Scottish which doesn't make sense at all as the disagreements between England and Scotland had nothing at all to to with the Gunpowder Plot and it seems the entire first half of this three hour lie-fest highlighted the 'plight' of Mary, Queen of Scots just to justify the anti-English sentiment.

    Of course it never mentions once the lying, plotting and conniving she herself did against her cousin Elizabeth, which bought about her 'reluctant' execution by the English Queen.

    Apart from using it to work in some anti-English propaganda, the whole Mary, Queen of Scots story line wasn't needed. It took place 40 years before Guy Fawkes and his cronies tried to blow up Parliament and was just a waste of time and money. Its not like it even set the scene, the events of the 1560's and the events of 1605 are completely unrelated. I'm sure the public would have much preferred to see a more accurate three hour in depth story about 1605 than anything else.

    I just feel as a protestant and an Englishman, that this film went too far in it's inaccurate portrayals and political sentiments against me and my kind and cannot justify the openly political and religious stance it made by portraying the catholics of 16th and 17th century Britain as the nice guys of the piece. It is on a par with portraying the Nazis as humanists with morals and Al-Qaeda terrorists as brave soldiers with just cause.

    I feel that had a programme, film, play, book or song directed so much negative feeling and bile towards any other country, religion, race, colour, creed or faction, it would have been banned as racist and bigoted, and wouldn't even have seen the light of day.

    I myself am not racist against any country or religion, especially not against my fellow Britons, my Scotttish and Welsh brethren, it just hurts me that even now in the 21st Century these two great countries still feel significantly insecure that they have to make such jibes and comments towards the English as they feel it raises their position somewhat.

    To be honest devolution hasn't helped. It has done more to recreate the politics and feeling of the era depicted here than anything else, and unfortunately as a result, the division between our three countries is now growing wider, and the undertones shown in this production substantiates this fact.

    As far as Scotland and Wales are concerned the United Kingdom of Great Britain is sadly no more
  • Clemence Posey stars as the young and beautiful Mary, Queen of Scots in this thrilling tale of murder, deceit and religion. Upon the death of her mother the young Mary travels back to her homeland of Scotland from France after 13 years in exile. Discovering that her religion is considered evil Mary tries to allow Catholics and Protestants to worship in there own way unbeknown to her, her half brother Lord James is conspiring with Mary's rival, the Protestant Elizabeth 1st to plan Mary's downfall and replace her as King of Scotland.

    When Mary marries the English, and powerful Lord Darnley, James begins to fear for his ambitions even more, when Mary becomes pregnant, and with the birth of her son, the future King James. Lord James realise his plans are destroyed.

    With her marriage becoming tempestuous and violent Mary seeks solitude away from her violent husband in the arms of her faithful guard Bothwell, a move which was to become her downfall, for the sake of her son Mary places herself in the hands of her enemy and abdicates.

    The series picks up again around 20 years later with James VI ruling Scotland and awaiting the death of the English Queen Elizabeth so he can claim her crown, when he does ascend to the throne all seems well, the people welcome him and except that they have a Protestant King, what he doesn't count on is a group of powerful Catholics, determined he will not destroy their faith and set to blowing up Parliament and the King. Learning of the plan James enlists the help of his adviser, the questionable Lord Cecill and his ill-fated spy Lady Margaret, to identify Guy Fawkes and his group and bring them to justice.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Loved this adaptation of the historical time of James VI of England. What I was not too sure of is was James VI a bisexual? Because he is portrayed as a cruel unfeeling husband to his wife who at first treats her merely as a breeding mare and is callous and a brute, but then is seen liking the company of young men! In one particular scene James is alone with one of the conspirators and in a deal wants him to perform a sex act on him was this a true fact? I have not read in any history books that the king of England was bisexual so was it just a sub plot? Well played by Robert Carlisle who plays him as a cruel selfish man with a bad leg that he drags around.

    Loved the whole thing great acting from all, Guy Fawkes played by Michael Fassbender was very good a moody fellow who would do anything for his cause.

    I thoroughly recommend this drama very very good love the execution scene it showed gore and fear.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It was expected that this series would take an anti-Catholic tone, after all, it appears most of England had grown rabidly anti-Catholic (not without reason) at this time.

    But in scenes where the Catholic plotters were planning to blow up the Parliament, it was a bit disturbing to have the script make the characters use terms such as "martyrs to the cause" and decide that, if innocent Catholic bystanders were to be killed by their plot, that was "alright", since they would be dying for the Church or something like that.

    Personally, I don't think Fawkes and company thought in those lines, since they needed all the Catholics they could get, since they were in a minority in Britain. Were the producers making the Catholic plotters appear like something out of today's Al-Qaeda, to make the film more "familiar" to today's audiences?

    The Protestants don't appear too angelic either. The ending sequence where King James I appeared totally mad or ruthless before Parliament, talking about unspeakable punishments for the plotters who only wanted "tolerance" - well, that sort of appeared like the producers were trying to get people to equate the King's behavior to Washington's response to 9/11 and come out thinking that the USA's reaction was quite over the top too. A political statement if there was one.

    And where did they get it that James I may have been homosexual and had a hard time to have a "normal" relationship with his wife? The historical James I had 9 children by Queen Anne.

    The point is, costume dramas have all the potential to be great dramas, without having to "adapt" the script to make the historical characters act and speak in a way that would make them look contemporary.

    At any rate, it was interesting TV fare. *** out of *****
  • ejamc9 August 2017
    I loved every minute of this show! Both episodes were action packed and full of intrigue, just as the real events must have been 500 years ago! The acting was excellent, and the accents were superb! Mr. Robert Carlyle as James I of England and VI of Scotland was especially good, as was Catherine McCormack as Elizabeth I! An A+ from me!