Gunpowder, Treason & Plot * Gillies MacKinnon * 2004 (series)

A fairly new series that I got on DVD cheaply in a luxery twofold ‘digipack’. These two-episode series are about an interesting part of history. The first series opens when the future queen Mary of Scots (1542-1567) living in exile in France, hears about the death of her mother, Mary of Guise (1515-1560). She returns to Scotland to claim the throne. Scotland has been in war with England for many years and also there is the (connected) ongoing war between Catholics and Protestants. England was mostly Catholic and Scotland Protestant, but ‘both camps’ were present in both empires, so there were internal struggles too. However the Catholic Mary of Scots wants a peacefull reign, she starts with serious problems, being a Catholic queen in Protestant Scotland. Then Mary marries the English earl James Hepburn (1536-1578), not particularly a happy marriage and not really with the result Mary hoped for either. When Mary has ‘produced an heir’ and the heat under her feet becomes too much, she surrenders and loses her baby-boy to her brother.
Disc 2 begins when Mary’s son, James (played by Robert Carlyle!) is grown up and ready to become king of both Scotland (James VI) and England (James I), he is the only heir to both thrones! Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is dying in England and his mother imprisoned in Scotland. When Elizabeth dies, James has his mother killed and he claims both thrones. He is not welcomed warmly in England, but this gets better, even as he remains a poor king. The series ends when James prevents an attack on himself and the parliament and after years of marriage with queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) finally becomes relatively happy now that the two have gained some wealth.
Of course I gave away whole the story, but since it is history anyway, it is easy to figure it out. These series are definately worth watching. The acting is good, the costumes and stages great and the story moving and educational. MacKinnon used two styles of filming for both episodes, which are actually two films (of about an hur and 40 minutes), because they play in two different periods and are about two different people. The first is ‘normal’, the second slighly different, with characters talking to the cameras explaining their thoughts and the events) which makes the viewer more involved in the story. “Gunpowder…” is a great watch, especially to watch in combination with the magnificent film “Elizabeth” by Shekhar Kapur (1998).
Funny detail, Tim McInnerny plays “Cecil”. He appeared more often on TV in the same historical period, but instead of playing Thomas Percy like he does in “Blackadder”, he chose another character.

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