Guy Fawkes on Film: Historical Romances, Documentaries, Speculation

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Warner Bros. Pictures' V for Vendetta - 2006
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Warner Bros. Pictures' V for Vendetta - 2006

In the 21st century, Guy Fawkes serves as a reminder of one of the most deadly but failed domestic terrorist plots ever hatched in Great Britain. Fawkes, a devout Catholic, was a member of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to kill King James I on November 5, 1605. The king had brought back stiff fines for Catholics who refused to attend services at the Church of England.

When the plot was uncovered by the king's guards, they found Fawkes holding the smoking gun or, in this case, a slow match designed to detonate 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden under Parliament. Fawkes wasn't the chief conspirator, but his likeness has since become a symbol of anarchy, especially to members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Besides the well-known "V for Vendetta," the story of an antihero in a dystopian London, Fawkes and his Gunpowder Plot cohorts have inspired the plots of other films

"Guy Fawkes," a 1923 silent film based on a novel by William Harrison Ainsworth, has been classified as a historical romance. The film includes a romantic triangle between Fawkes, a lady named Viviana, and Robert Catesby, the founder of the Gunpowder Plot. Because historical records don't include this romance, this plot point sounds more like artistic license than fact.

"Gunpowder, Treason and Plot" features the wonderful Robert Carlyle from "Once Upon a Time" as King James I. Portions of this TV miniseries were devoted to the planning and execution of the king when he arrived to open a new session of Parliament on November 5.

Bonfire Night Movies

When news of the foiled plot reached British citizens, they lit bonfires and celebrated into the night. This was the first known instance of Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Day.

An Internet search for "Bonfire Night" turned up "Stand Well Back," a film with a story that involves three separate Bonfire Night celebrations. The title, it appears, comes from a parental warning to kids playing around the bonfire or setting off fireworks. No other information is available about the film and it doesn't appear to be available on DVD.

Analyzing the Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot remain one of history's greatest unsolved mysteries, namely what would have happened if the conspirators succeeded. The BBC website offers an interesting video showing what could have happened if Fawkes had been able to light the fuse and escape without detection. "National Geographic" also offers a recreation of the Gunpowder Plot and speculations about how much damage would have been caused that night.

Those keen on bonus materials can find "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" in the extras on many DVD copies of "V for Vendetta." Natalie Portman appears here along with historical experts talking about Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot, and how his face became iconic. The title comes from the chant "Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November," which revelers say on Guy Fawkes Day.

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