University of York Lecturers as Historical Advisors in BBC’s New Drama Gunpowder

University of York Lecturers are historical advisors for the BBC’s new series Gunpowder. The drama, airing for the first time this Saturday on BBC One, stars Game of Thrones Actor Kit Harrington, and Actress and daughter of Aerosmith’s lead singer, Liv Tyler.

The show is based on the infamous attempt blow up the House of Lords on 5 of November 1605, otherwise known to us as Guy Fawkes Night. Kit Harrington plays Robert Catesby, the man ultimately responsible for the plot, who also (not so coincidentally) happened to be Harrington’s true relative from his mother’s side. The series was filmed in various locations throughout Yorkshire, including Bradford and Leeds.

Dr Hannah Greig and Dr John Cooper (Senior Lecturers in Early Modern History), have been involved in the historical accuracy of this programme. Dr John Cooper said that himself and Dr Greig were: “brought in to present the historical choices that the production team had, and ultimately to empower them to make decisions that are appropriate for their story to avoid the post-production challenge of trying to rectify any mistakes.” He also adds that they “were able to ask and suggest potential answers to the motivations of these men at a time in our history were risk, threat, and fear were part of daily life”.

John Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at The University of York

Dr Hannah Greig has been consulting on television and film dramas for around 10 years, having worked on a range of BBC dramas (mostly set in the 18th century); including Jamaica Inn, and the much-adored Poldark series. So, when the BBC got in touch with her again earlier this year and asked if she would consult for them, she was very happy to get involved. Dr Greig told York Vision: (the new series was) “slightly out of my usual period of academic expertise but I really wanted to do it because I thought it was a really exciting drama. So,

I asked my colleague John Cooper, who is a real expert in the period, if he wanted to come and job share with me and do it together”. Guy Fawkes was born and educated here in York, making him even more of a prominent figure. But Dr Hannah Grieg informs us that we are “perhaps less familiar with the lives and motivations of his fellow plotters”. She says: “what’s interesting about the gunpowder plot is that one the one hand, we think it’s very familiar to us because we have bonfire night every year; but on the other hand, it’s very

Hannah Greig, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at The University of York

distant from us in terms of our recollection of the historical context and moment in which it happened”. She continues to explain their assistance in the series: “so one of our roles was to try and help the production company, and those involved in the production get a quick, rapid revisit of what the historical context was, so that the drama could be very well historically informed and communicate what’s actually quite a complicated history in a meaningful way to a modern audience; and I think they do that very successfully actually”.

When asking Dr Greig if she enjoyed her time consulting for Gunpowder she replied: “I found it very intellectually stimulating as a historian as I often do working on dramas because, for those of us who are academics it often helps us think about our work in a slightly different way”. She says that “being asked to talk about that in a new way is very helpful for us academics”.

Dr Greig describes her time as a historical consultant “intellectually exciting, but also a lot of fun to see the set being built, to be on set, to see the cast in action”. She adds that seeing “how production comes to life is a great privilege”.

And to all you Game of Thrones fans out there, yes, she did meet John Snow himself.

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