‘The Great Fire’ Episode 3 review

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The Great Fire experiences a major shift in focus this week as we enter the third episode of ITV’s mini-series.

The fire element is all but forgotten, yet what it is replaced by is a greater emphasis on character development and the advance of their individual stories.

Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie continues to stand out here as the put upon Sarah Farriner, caught between her loyalties to her employer Lord Hanford and the threats of Lord Denton.

“I do not know what enterprise you have embarked on or what it means for the king or the country…my son is all I want” pleads a broken Sarah, played with such endearing heartbreak that you really yearn for some happiness for her character. Leslie has an uncanny ability to add layers of despair to her character, whose situation goes from bad to worse here, yet still maintain an intelligence (playing up to Lord Denton’s vanity) and sense of cunning (escaping while Denton bickers with the Duke Of Hanford that makes you root for her.

Charles Dance as Lord Denton is consistently excellent but he is at his best so far in this episode. The scene where he mercilessly chokes Romero, describing in detail how he will be hung, drawn and quartered for treason is horrifying both in its brutality and its simplicity. That he then kills him anyway shows the lengths he will go to see out his own agenda. This is also shown in the jarringly quick slaying of Hanford (a genuine shock moment) and how he then blames this and the Great Fire itself on Sarah, as an act of aggression from Catholic revolutionaries.

The Great Fire

The episode also strongly acknowledges the history of this story and touches on some interesting points as it does so. King Charles II is seen to be a monarch who is overruled by his own staff and it’s interesting to watch him struggle with that realisation.

Furthermore we have James’ involvement with Hanford exposed to the King and the moral implications of that. “In case you have forgotten brother, I am the Protestant king of a Protestant country and I do not delude myself that our country would wish to be ruled by Rome” Charles sternly tells James, who later has a verbal smack down of his own for the King.

It’s a strong series of scenes and Oliver Jackson-Cohen who plays the Duke, is particularly good here, standing up to his brother and seeming to be the only one clued into Denton’s agenda. The royal and political elements of the story gain momentum in this episode and add a strong vein of historical truth to proceedings.

There is less success with the Samuel Pepys storyline, with Daniel Mays performance as Samuel still seeming hollow, which is a shame as he is usually so good. Better cast is his screen wife Perdita Weeks as Mrs Pepys who is very good here and has a stronger chemistry with Will Kemp as potential lover Alfredo than she does with her screen husband. The lock picking moment also fell slightly short for me, not creating any sense of jeopardy or suspense, even when it appeared for a second that Tom (Andrew Buchan) had abandoned his young nephew to die in a burning slum.

However, these are only a few near misses in an episode that ignites the viewer’s interest more successfully than the previous two, but still has a few issues to iron out in next week’s finale.


Aired at 9pm on Thursday 30 October 2014 on ITV.

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