Remember, remember the Fifth of November/Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot/I see no reason/Why gunpowder treason/Should ever be forgot. Those immortal lines commemorate the British tradition of remembering an attempted attack on Parliament with an annual celebration of bonfires and fireworks. In solidarity with our friends across the pond consider commemorating the occasion by watching one of the following.
Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004) This BBC mini-series directed by Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (The Escapist, Hideous Kinky) is loosely based on the lives of Mary Queen of Scots (French actress Clemence Poesy of In Bruges, and War and Peace) and her son James VI of Scotland (the one and only Robert Carlyle of Trainspotting, The Fully Monty, and Once Upon A Time. Catherine McCormack of Braveheart, Dangerous Beauty, and Shadow of the Vampire plays Elizabeth I and a young Michael Fassbender made one of his earliest appearances in the role of Guy Fawkes himself.
The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend (2005) This television series hosted by Richard Hammond and designed to coincide with the 400th year anniversary of the plot actually recreates elements of the Gunpowder Plot itself. The Houses of Parliament are reconstructed as they were in 1605, using period methods whenever possible. The “Houses” were then stocked with mannequins representing, commoners, nobles, and of course the King. Then they actually blow it up using the gunpowder materials in the original plot to see how the plan would have worked. The next part of the program has Hammond going into a counterfactual speculation of the effect on British history had the plot succeeded.
V for Vendetta (2006) This dystopian political thriller directed by James McTeigue (The Raven, Sense8) and was written by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, Sense8). Based on the Alan Moore limited comic series it imagines an alternative future where Great Britain has been taken over by a neo-Fascist regime. Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix) is spellbinding as mysterious anarchist V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and seeks to ignite a revolution against the current regime that will begin with his plans to blow up Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day the following year. V enlists the unwitting Evey (young Natalie Portman) to his cause all the meanwhile being investigated by Detective Finch (Stephen Rea). You also get memorable turns by John Hurt, Stephen Fry, and Rupert Graves among many others and some great use of the 1812 overture.
Attack the Block (2011) This delightful sci-fi, comedy, horror adventure film was written and directed by Joe Cornish (Hot Fuzz, Ant Man.) Starring John Boyega (Finn from Star Wars), Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) it takes place in a South London council estate. On Guy Fawkes night a young local street gang suddenly have to defend themselves from an alien invasion. Fortunately the young gang members in question turn out to be very tough and very resourceful indeed. It became a massive cult hit with a 90% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
Gunpowder 5/11: The Greatest Terror Plot (2014) Adam Kemp (Churchill’s First World War) wrote, directed, and produced this dramatization using the actual words of Thomas Wintour (Jamie Thomas King of The Tudors, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) Guy Fawkes (Jamie MacLachlan of Maleficent and EastEnders) and other interrogators. It tells of the events from Wintour’s recruitment of Guy Fawkes and his brother to their capture and final days.
Top photo: Bigstock
Mel Gibson is back with a vengeance, directing a World War II drama based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who goes into battle without a rifle and ends up saving the lives of 75 soldiers. Gibson, who won an Academy Award for directing Braveheart, has not directed a film since 2006’s Apocalypto. After a stellar career as both an actor and director, in 2010, Gibson suffered a series of public meltdowns. He was dropped by his talent agency and essentially treated as a persona non grata. Hollywood, however, loves a good comeback story and this film could help Gibson restart his career. While not rising to the level of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge is a riveting wartime drama that celebrates an unexpected and unconventional hero.
Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) served in World War I and emerged with a medal and a damaged psyche. After watching several of his friends die horrible deaths, he returned home and began drinking and abusing his wife. “You didn’t know him before the war,” his wife, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), says in his defense. When Tom threatens Bertha with a gun, their son, Des (Andrew Garfield), manages to take the weapon away and turn it on his father. That event becomes a tipping point in Des’s life, leading him to embrace his religion as a Seventh Day Adventist, eschew all forms of violence, and vow never again to touch a gun.
Teresa Palmer and Andrew Garfield
Des discovers his medical talent when he saves a man’s life by using his belt as a tourniquet. While at the hospital, he meets an attractive nurse, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), whom he vows to marry. Initially reluctant, Dorothy is won over by Des’s “aw-shucks” charm and his admirable adherence to his religious values.
After his brother, Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists – over the objections of his father – Des feels obligated to do his part, signing on to become an Army medic. Des winds up in a boot camp where each recruit is required to carry a rifle and learn how to use it. While Army medics are tasked to treat those injured, they also carry weapons for protection. Des’s refusal to even touch a rifle is viewed as placing not only himself, but also his fellow soldiers at risk. An inflexible military system threatens him with a court martial. The way he escapes conviction is unusual, but, from the film’s point of view, satisfying.
Des’s Courtmartial Hearing
Des’s unit is sent to Okinawa, where a battle is raging on a rocky, desolate plateau dubbed Hacksaw Ridge. Taking the territory would allow the Allies to score an important victory against the Japanese, but the battle will be bloody and costly. Remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, showing Americans landing on the beaches in Normandy? That scene was mild compared with the relentless battlefield carnage we see in Hacksaw Ridge. Limbs are blown off, guts spilled, and Japanese soldiers incinerated with flame throwers. In the midst of this human destruction, Des continues his mission, treating and rescuing as many soldiers as he can. With each wounded soldier he finds, he does what he can, applying tourniquets to staunch bleeding, administering morphine to deal with pain. He drags each wounded soldier to the lip of the ridge and slowly lowers them to the ground below using a rope, that, while knotted improperly, still does the trick. Running on fumes, he returns again and again to find someone he might have missed, praying to God to give him strength to save “just one more.” Garfield’s performance is intense. While we know that he will survive (the real Des went on to become the only CO to receive the Medal of Honor), each time he risks going back to the battlefield, we fear for his safety.
The soldiers Des saves are transported to the camp’s medical facility. Des’s commanding officer, Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), is shocked to see so many from his platoon alive and being treated. When he asks one soldier, Milt Zane, nicknamed “Hollywood” (Luke Pegler), how he got out, he credits Des. Others repeat the medic’s name. When the final tally comes in, Des has saved 75 soldiers. Someone once viewed as a coward for his reluctance to carry a weapon winds up being the hero of the battle.
There are memorable performances among the supporting cast. Vince Vaughn, in a departure from his comic roles, is effective as Sergeant Howell, who bullies Des, hoping he will drop out, but winds up being saved by the medic. Weaving’s Tom Doss is a tragic figure who redeems himself and repairs the relationship with his wife and family. Seen through a present-day lens, Tom has PTSD, and Weaving’s poignant performance allows us to see his suffering. As a soldier called “Smitty,” Luke Bracey has a touching scene with Garfield. Sharing a foxhole, Smitty, who was once Des’s nemesis, finds he has a lot in common with the CO, a surprising friendship formed in the midst of war.
Hacksaw Ridge opens nationwide November 4, 2016.
Photos credit: Mark Rogers courtesy of Lionsgate