‘The Great Fire’ Episode 4 review

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In this final episode of The Great Fire we have potentially the show’s finest hour, with strong performances from all the main cast that help to provide a sense of closure both to the historical events and to the characters, with a focus on emotion rather than action and a sharp script that reaches out to all the major plot points raised so far in ITV’s four-part mini-series.

The move to highlight the emotional developments of the characters in the story provides an interesting shift in tone: a tone backed up by lovely direction from director Jon Jones. Clearly the writers of this episode (of which there are three: Tom Bradby, Tom Butterworth and Chris Hurford) pulled out all the stops to make this episode memorable for those who’ve stuck with the drama.

There’s a real sense of jeopardy that builds as the fire spreads, both towards the Palace and the Tower & its gunpowder rooms, adding a historical weight to the drama. It’s a shame that in creating some truly stand out moments for the drama, however, that it does highlight just how off the mark previous episodes have been when it came to balancing the period drama and the characters’ journeys.

To be fair, the script provides some wonderful moments for its cast. Perdita Weeks is never finer as she battles with her husband, her own emotions for the murdered Alfredo and her long withdrawn maternal instincts towards the Farriner children. Rose Leslie is given real meat as she stands up to the King to defend herself and defy Lord Denton, but Leslie has been consistently strong throughout.

However, credit must go to Sonya Cassidy, who up till this point was little more than a background character as Queen Catherine, but who shines here with words spoken with measured ferocity and blind faith in her husband, displaying a lovely chemistry with Huston that makes you wish they’d had more scenes together.

It’s an episode of revelations. Sarah and Tom finally declare their feelings for each other. Sarah’s husband is proved to have defected to the West Indies instead of sailing with the Navy for his country, abandoning his family in the process. Pepys stands up to the cruel Lord Denton, despite the struggles and influence Denton has on the Royal Court. Even Sarah prepares to sacrifice herself for the good of her family when Lord Denton implicates her as a Papist conspirator.

The Great Fire Andrew Buchan

However, the episode’s most shocking moment is the jarring and genuinely upsetting scene as looters, including Mr Bagwell and the Ferryman, string up Afredo (Will Kemp) and lynch him as a public statement that they will not stand for the interference of Catholicism in their lives. It’s a brutal scene, that not only highlights the violence and unrest that rises as a result of social anarchy, but on a smaller scale deeply affects the marriage of the Pepys, as Samuel realises that Lizzie was in love with Alfredo.

But at its heart this closing episode is a beautiful character study in what it is like to cope through the struggles of life. The Pepys marital troubles draws an earnest performance from Daniel Mays, who has so far felt miscast in this drama. Huston proves his worth in the rousing closing speech he gives them that finally cements him as the people’s King in the wake of the tragic fire.

Andrew Buchan as Tom continues to provide us with a strong and endearing performance as the flawed but loving baker, desperate to set things right for his family and the woman he loves. That he and Sarah get their happy ending is a lovely touch, if a tad unrealistic given the gravity that hung over them with public persecution and the threat of treason.

As The Great Fire burns to its last embers it takes some interesting and brave choices to create a fitting finale.


Aired at 9pm on Thursday 6 November 2014 on ITV.

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