FOR any Game of Thrones fans missing the sight of Kit Harrington holding a sword and looking moody, BBC One’s timely new drama will come as sweet relief.
Telling the story of the 1605 Catholic plot to assassinate King James and blow up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament, Harrington plays Robert Catesby, the leader of the plotters in a role he was literally born to play, being a direct descendant of the nobleman.
An impressively tense start to the action sees Mass being celebrated at a Catholic family’s manor house in Warwickshire before the King’s men arrive, prompting priests being bundled into chests and behind wardrobes.
The scene reminded me of the start of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds as we watch the dastardly Sir William Wade (Shane Dooley) question Catesby and a defiant Lady Dorothy (Sian Webber) as the quivering priests hide in their holes.
Eventually one, Father Daniel, is uncovered and the recriminations are shocking in the extreme.
The complaints received by the BBC over the graphic depiction of the executions which follow are unsurprising but perhaps the likes of Games of Thrones have raised the bar when it comes to on screen torture.
While that series has shown castration, beheadings and fiery dragon deaths, here we saw poor Dorothy stripped naked and crushed by loading weights onto a board she was placed underneath.
Father Daniel meanwhile is hung, disembowelled and hacked to pieces with no scrimping on the detail. It was an uncomfortable piece of television but at no time did it feel gratuitous – bloody executions were commonplace at the time, so why not show history as it happened?
From then on we’re introduced to the other main players in the plot and those determined to stop them.
Mark Gatiss is in danger of becoming typecast playing underhand officials but that’s because he is so good at it.
His secretary of state Robert Cecil is sinister in the extreme as he gently persuades the camp King James (Derek Riddell) that every Catholic is out to get him with the help of a good looking courtier or two.
Guy Fawkes’ violent entrance at the end of this episode promises that the gore count is far from over and that there’s more fireworks to come. We may know how it ends but Gunpowder looks sure to be as explosive as any Bonfire Night.