How Accurate Is Guy Fawkes In 'Gunpowder'? Tom Cullen's Character Takes A Backseat To Kit Harington's Robert Catesby
While you've most likely heard of the name Guy Fawkes and his role in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, you're probably far less familiar with Robert Catesby. Kit Harington stars as Catesby in HBO's Gunpowder, which shows how it was really Catesby — not Fawkes — that came up with the failed plan to blow up Parliament and kill King James I. Yet, Guy Fawkes is the man who is synonymous with this botched terrorist attack in pop culture. But it's actually historically accurate that Tom Cullen's Guy Fawkes in Gunpowder is not the main character when it comes to the Gunpowder Plot.
Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, is still celebrated in the UK on Nov. 5, more than 400 years after Fawkes was caught trying to ignite the House of Lords. Not only does this fireworks-filled celebration take Fawkes' name with people burning effigies of Fawkes, but he is referenced in the comic and movie V For Vendetta and even the Harry Potter series. Yet, as Encyclopædia Britannica wrote, Catesby was the leader of the plot to blow up Parliament as a way to get more religious freedom for British Catholics. Fawkes was reportedly just a coconspirator with Catesby, but he became so infamous because he was the one who was caught with the gunpowder in the cellar of the House of Lords.
Cullen, who was one of Lady Mary's suitors on Downton Abbey and dates Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black fame, doesn't appear as Fawkes until the end of the first part of Gunpowder, which airs on Dec. 18 on HBO. "It's quite bold to do a third of a drama about the Gunpowder Plot without showing Guy Fawkes," Gunpowder director J Blakeson told The Telegraph. "When he does finally appear, in a dark alley, you get this chill on the back of your neck."
But you can expect Fawkes to play a bigger role in the two other parts of the miniseries, which premiere on Dec. 19 and 20. And as these episodes previously aired in the UK, British publications have already reported on how correct Gunpowder is when it comes to Fawkes' involvement, so slight spoilers follow. (Although, if you're familiar with the history of the Gunpowder Plot at all, then the series' ending is already spoiled for you.)
In the third part, Fawkes is discovered in the basement of the House of Lords with the gunpowder on Nov. 5. He then is brutally tortured, which is accurate to history. Although The Telegraph noted in an article about Episode 3 that the show might have taken creative liberties with how exactly he was tortured (for example, Cullen's Fawkes get his fingernails pulled out, but there's no historical evidence of that), the fact that he was able to sustain this torture did reportedly impress King James I — the very king Fawkes was attempting to assassinate. Gunpowder also has Fawkes insulting the king to his face. The Telegraph reported that some historical accounts do note that Fawkes was that bold, but not all historians are in agreement about this. He did eventually give up his coconspirators after this torture, though.
As for Fawkes' demise, Gunpowder does accurately show that. Before he was to be hung, Fawkes jumped off the scaffolding to his own death. Radio Times wrote that he broke his neck from this fall, which ensured him "a quick death despite his injuries and weakness from multiple torture sessions."
Cullen recently posted a photo of himself to Instagram looking all beat up, presumably in his makeup for this scene.
Perhaps the most inaccurate part of Fawkes in Gunpowder is how he looks. Cullen told Radio Times in an interview, "Fawkes was ginger, and had long ginger hair. And I'm not a redhead! So we talked about dying my beard, dying my hair. I just looked stupid, is the truth of it. I'm not a good redhead." Instead, Fawkes in Gunpowder has closely shaved, dark hair, which reflects his military career. Because, as Encyclopædia Britannica wrote, it is correct that Fawkes was recruited to join the Gunpowder Plot when he was serving in the Spanish army. "I think that he would say that he was the guy that was going to see it through to the end. I think he'd be proud that he was caught at the end," Cullen claimed of the historical figure.
Fawkes isn't the main character of Gunpowder, but his role in the miniseries is more accurate than what legend would have you believe. But even though Catesby planned this failed government takedown, Fawkes' name will continue to be the one that people remember when they think of the fifth of November.