Kit Harington’s new BBC drama Gunpowder began on BBC1 last night, telling the true story of the men behind the famed Gunpowder Plot including Harington’s own ancestor Robert Catesby, and attracting praise for its high production values and tense storytelling.
However, as the episode went on one scene gave viewers pause – a particularly brutal execution sequence where a woman was stripped naked, tortured and killed by being crushed by a weighed-down metal door, quickly followed by a young priest’s disembowelment and “quartering” (i.e, having his body chopped up) on the scaffold next to her.
And for some watching at home, the whole thing was just too much to take.
My god the way they’re killing this lady in gunpowder is barbaric 😫 #Gunpowder
In fact, some viewers even found the violence so disgusting they suggested they might switch over to something a LITTLE more palatable instead, accusing the drama of gratuitously staging scenes too gory for TV whatever time of day you’re watching it.
I'm afraid I had to stop watching #Gunpowder. A bit of realism is fine but this is all brutality, no story. I feel sick.
“It’s a very violent time, and we have to show the violence that the Catholics incurred, that the people around them incurred,” Kit Harington said when asked about the violence on Gunpowder’s set earlier this year.
“We can’t avoid the executions that the people around these men suffered. And I think it’s wrong when showing a torture scene or execution, I think it’s wrong to shy too far away from the reality of it. You need to feel the reasons, to know why they go and do the things they do.
“We’re not gonna be seeing this pre-9 o’ clock. I think audiences will accept a greater level of violence as long as it’s justified.”
And many viewers agreed with Harington’s assessment, suggesting that such barbarity was historically accurate and would be wrong to ignore in a drama about the period, especially when it was being aired well past the watershed.
Are people really complaining about how brutal #Gunpowder is? It's how things were back then.
In our own poll of RadioTimes.com readers responses were fairly split, though the majority (about 58% at time of writing) seem to think it was a BIT too much blood for a Saturday night. And given that future episodes of the series promise yet more torture and executions, we’re betting there’ll be plenty more gore coming in the next couple of weeks.
But what do you think – have executive producer Harington and his team struck exactly the right balance, or would you rather they cut back a little on the cutting off? Vote now!
This article was originally published in October 2017