‘Gunpowder’ – BBC1

This hotly anticipated three-part drama series about the most explosive event in British politics stars Kit Harington, whose star is in the ascendant as he’s that Jon Snow off of Game of Thrones. Even if you’re a stick-in-the-mud hold-out refusing to ride that fantasy dragon I’m sure you could pick his curly locks out of a line-up. Not only is Kit in the starring role as chief gunpowder plotter Robert Catesby but he’s credited as co-executive producer, and he helped get this unlikely vanity project off the ground. Turns out that Kit has family ties on his mother’s side to the rebellious Catesby family of persecuted Catholics who are central to the drama and to this famous nugget of British history.

We meet the Catesby’s and co back in 1603. Queen Elizabeth I is dead and James I is in charge. Things are not improving for England’s oppressed Catholics. The well-to-do Catesby family are seventeenth century preppers because in this instance the government really is out to get them.

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‘The Last Dragonslayer’

The Last Dragonslayer on Sky 1 was a proper Christmas treat and should have been on everyone’s list to watch instead of the Doctor Who christmas episode, shown at the same time. In this reviewer’s opinion Doctor Who has been limping along since the unfortunate Peter Capaldi took over. The sooner we see new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s work in 2017 the better, although it’d take a miracle to lure me back. Anyway I digress…

This much more satisfying slice of fantasy was served up by novelist Jasper Fforde. I’ve read quite a few of Fforde’s weird postmodern literary stories but never realised he’d branched out into young adult fiction. Happy to report that while retaining his own odd identity (more on that later) this shared elements with classic YA stuff like the Harry Potter series, Rincewind’s adventures in the Discworld and the magnificent His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

This is a full review, so if you want to avoid spoilers go watch it now and come back later.

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‘The Crown’

Missing your Downton Abbey Sunday evening fix? Fancy a posh period drama. They don’t come any posher than this. Dramatist Peter Morgan (who wrote the film The Queen from 2006) offers us a new biographical series about Queen Elizabeth II and her family, disappointingly not called Keeping Up With The Windsors. It’s one of the most lavish and expensive period dramas ever made, and everyone who watches this sort of telly was startled to find out it wasn’t going to be broadcast on the BBC, the go-to broadcaster for Grandma-friendly programming. New commissioning behemoth Netflix apparently paid £100 million for the first 20 episodes, so you can see why the Beeb might have said no, in a year where they couldn’t find enough change down the sofa to keep Mel, Sue and Mary in their big tent.

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‘Versailles’ – On the Box

BBC 2’s newest lavish period drama is a British-Franco-Canadian collaboration about the building of the fabulous Palace of Versailles. A second season was already ordered ahead of the premiere. I guess that’s the thing with history – there’s a whole lot of story to tell.  It’s part produced by Canal+ but in English with no phony French accents, which is great. There’s nothing more jarring in a drama than hearing accented English that sounds like Vicki Michelle in Allo ‘Allo.

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