Praise for Patrick Malahide’s Performance
RF: Yes, tons more of Mr. Malahide on screen – which made the way it ended that much more heart-wrenching! But more on that later.
Admin: And his amazing contribution did not go unnoticed. Den of Geek’s Louisa Mellor singled him out:
There’s a great deal of talent behind it, the odd glimmer of greatness (Patrick Malahide was going great guns in that prison cell speech)….
Great guns indeed! It is more than a “glimmer”; it is greatness.
The Wells Journal’s Alex Hoskins, giving the overall episode a more negative review (perhaps too harsh), also marked him:
The scene in which John Francis recalled the torture of the priest his family had concealed was a rare moment of believable emotion…
It is an amazing scene, so let’s get to covering it all. Since Channel 4 has detailed recaps, we will delve into all things John Francis!
Bonding With Will Blood
Admin: Beth is returned home after her forest adventure by Will Blood (James McCardle) who has been appointed as a spy / saboteur by Judge Jeffreys (Pip Carter). He doesn’t want to hurt Angelica or John Francis, but he must otherwise his father will hang.
RF: This is the first area where the rushed pacing really began to be a detriment. Well, it was a definite detriment in episode 1, but the effects are starting to tell. I would have really liked to have seen more of Will Blood’s character: his insinuating himself into the Fanshawe household, making friends with the family while grassing on them (to borrow a Chisholm term) to Hardwick and Jeffreys, and generally seeing him involved in an emotional tug of war between his desire to save his father and his growing respect for John Francis and his household. BUT… we only got a very rushed picture of all this, which is a real shame, because aside from Mr. Malahide and Ms. Best, James McArdle seems to know what he’s doing.
Admin: They do make it work by sheer force of personality. But, I agree, slower pacing would be preferred.
Admin: Anyway, Angelica and John Francis (wearing their night clothes!) run to greet Angelica. We also see a brief bonding look between John Francis and Will. The bonding continues when John Francis later approaches Will to discuss what his duties will be.
RF: I guess they were in such a rush to meet Beth that they forgot to grab their robes. Still, it does indicate the sort of father John Francis is. He’s incredibly devoted to Beth and so grateful to Will (who actually didn’t do much besides give Beth a ride back on his horse) that he decides to offer him a job – which is a very decent thing for him to do.
The Claypits Burn
Admin: I hate those claypits — I really do! You know who else hates them? Abe and Beth. They hate them so much that in a bit of glamorous terrorism, Beth looks fetching in her boyish rebel outfit, they set them alight and *BOOM*! Trouble is that Hardwick (Michael Maloney) and Judge J. are indoors twirling their proverbial mustaches by the fire and run out to see the chaos. Hardwick pins the blame on the blameless John Francis who, as was duly noted last week, said he wished them “blown to Kingdom Come and (Hardwick) with them.”
RF: Hardwick and Jeffreys do seem to enjoy being Evil™ together. Yep, that had to be one of the most pointless acts of terrorism ever. After spending episode 1 telling us how downtrodden the claypit workers were, in one fell swoop, Abe and Beth remove their means of livelihood and render them unemployed, thereby depriving them of the few pennies they were making. Way to go, Abe and Beth! I agree, she got a tremendous charge out of naughtily dressing up in boys’ clothes and running around at night with Abe in the woods, committing vandalism, then rushing back home to
post about it on Facebook attempt to lie to her mother about it. And Angelica does try to warn her that she’s getting mixed up in very dangerous matters – words which become prophetic. When your Mum, who spent her formative years running around with rebels and regicides, tells you that perhaps you shouldn’t play highwayman in the woods, maybe you should listen to her!
A Secret Mass
Admin: Will is anguished as he removes the rope that hanged one of Abe’s Merry Men. He tells John Francis that he hopes it was a friend and not the bodysnatcher who took the corpse. John Francis comforts him. When asked if they should pray for the dead man to their Blessed Lady, John Francis becomes cautious. He will not pray out in the open, so he takes Will to a secret chamber where he holds Mass. Will is genuinely touched. John Francis, unknowingly, digs the dagger of guilt deeper, “I believe it is God’s providence that brought you to me.”
RF: Will gains John Francis’ trust by appealing to his compassion and humanity, and John Francis – who, as we’ve already seen, likes to find the good in everyone – takes the bait completely and brings Will into his confidence, showing him his secret chapel. However, since everyone already seems to know that John Francis is a Catholic, I’m not sure how much of a secret it was. Still, it’s an incredibly touching gesture for him to allow Will into his household so deeply.
Admin: Will and John Francis have a very sweet chemistry. James McCardle does a wonderful job of conveying love for John Francis, remorse over betraying good people, and desperation of trying to save his father. Kind and gentle John Francis is becoming a surrogate father to him, which makes his predicament worse.
RF: Very true about the surrogate father part. We also very briefly see that Jeffreys is increasing the pressure on Will because he’s dissatisfied with the information Will’s bringing him. Will is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Admin: Later a group of villagers, roused by Hardwick, gather outside Fanshawes to burn the Pope and John Francis in effigy. It is a tragic scene, poor John Francis is hurt and confused, “these are our neighbors.” Despite attempts to restrain him, John Francis steps forward: “Neighbors – you are deluded! There was no Catholic plot to kill the king.” The rabble just get more roused. Finally, Abe shows up with his gun to save the day….only he gets a bit distracted and stares at Beth giving Hardwick (I hate that guy) a chance to (non-fatally) shoot him.
RF: We get a real sense of John Francis’ shock and bewildered hurt over the pope-burning, exacerbated when he realizes he’s being burnt in effigy, too. It’s a sign of his character that his first reaction is to try to explain, reasonably, that they’re mistaken. It’s also a sign of Will’s increasing respect and regard for John Francis that he tries to prevent him from becoming too involved and perhaps getting injured – or incriminating himself as a Catholic, which is exactly what Hardwick wants. I totally agree about Hardwick – I couldn’t stand him either! He’s very smugly succeeded in getting John Francis’ neighbours, who’ve lived peacefully beside him for years, riled up with mob anger and ready to kill him.
RF: I had hopes when Abe showed up that he might be able to achieve something useful, like get John Francis and Angelica out of the situation. He made a good start, shooting off his pistol and silencing the mob, but he stopped to speechify and stare at Beth, turning his back on Hardwick, who was sitting on his horse with a loaded, unfired pistol in plain view… which doesn’t strike me as very smart of Abe. So of course Hardwick shot the dangerous outlaw!
Admin: Abe is such a frustrating hero. He does have the best of intentions, and continuously reminds us of them, but his actions always make more of a mess of things. Perhaps it is a deliberate way, from the writers, of showing us the dangers of terrorism.
Admin: Later John Francis and Angelica are alone. John Francis feels terrible for walking into the trap of “denying the Popish plot” (it is treasonous to do that). In a beautiful moment Angelica clasps John Francis as he tells her to leave England. At the same time, Beth and Ned (he’s in in England now and has made friends with Beth and Abe even though they stole his horse) find Abe who implores Beth to leave England with her mother.
RF: This was really quite heart-wrenching although we still have a smidgen of hope. We get an even better glimpse of John Francis and Angelica’s marriage and devotion to each other as he pleads with her to leave, knowing that he’ll be left to face any criminal charges alone. I liked the parallel scenes here between Abe and Beth and John Francis and Angelica, mostly because we got to see some true depth of emotion (John Francis and Angelica) contrasted with some rather paint-by-numbers dialogue (Abe and Beth – sorry, but it’s true). In both cases we have someone pleading with their utmost ability to get their loved ones to leave, even if it means abandoning them.
Admin: It was really neat the way they filmed both scenes together and interwove them. I think Abe and Beth would have been more intense had Ned not been there, but I like Ned (Gendry!!) so I won’t gripe about his presence. 🙂
Admin: Angelica ain’t having that! She clasps his face in her hands, “John Francis! I love you with my whole heart. If we must leave this house, we leave it together.” But, Hardwick (Have I mentioned how much I hate him?) moves fast and John Francis is arrested. Angelica tries to give him his rosary, but it is torn; the beads spill on the floor.
RF: A bit of obvious symbolism going on with the broken rosary, much as we got with the slain deer and smeared blood in episode 1, but it gets the message across. The really sad part of it is that the only reason John Francis is being arrested is so that Jeffreys can use him for leverage against Angelica.
Admin: I know I’m a teensy bit Game of Thrones obsessed, but don’t you just want to call him Joffreys? 😉
RF: He and Joffrey could certainly compare notes about how to be an evil tyrant. Jeffreys would probably think Joffrey was just a beginner, though.
Everyone Loves John Francis
John Francis is in prison. Will visits to tell him that Angelica and Beth refuse to leave without him.
Well, tell them I will follow. The King knows me for a loyal subject, my hot words will be forgiven once I explain to his judge.
Admin: John Francis’ optimism is heartbreaking and Will feels it keenly. He confesses all about his father and his betrayal. The look on John Francis’ face shows that he now knows all is lost, but there is no anger. At that moment (seriously, this drama moves fast) Judge J. walks in to callously inform Will that he grew impatient and hung his father. John Francis comforts Will. They embrace with sincere devotion; it is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.
RF: Oohhh, that first sight of John Francis through the bars, sitting hunched up on the hay! My heart was broken too, when he optimistically said he’d only have to explain a few things to Jeffreys and he’d be out right away. When he learns the truth about Will’s presence in his household, his entire reaction is wordless, yet volumes are conveyed; he slumps back against the wall in defeat. Again, it’s another sign of the sort of man John Francis is that his first reaction upon hearing that Will’s father has been executed (and we know it was Jeffreys’ intention all along) is to comfort Will. No wonder Will says John Francis has been “as a father” to him.
Admin: It is really well done and you just feel so much for both men. He doesn’t blame Will for what he did and comforts him in his moment of need.
Admin: Judge J. tries to break John Francis, who is deeply aware of the sounds of torture surrounding him. Later, Angelica and Beth visit him and their embrace is strong and heartfelt. Beth *finally* admits she loves John Francis as her father, and you feel deeply sorry for her. He tells them to go to the New World, and he will follow. I know everything is rushed, but the farewell scene between him and Angelica is intense, believable, passionate, and completely heartbreaking.
RF: John Francis is such a humane, caring man that just the sound of torture is enough to torture him all by itself. He doesn’t say a word in this entire scene, but his arms wrapped around himself and terrified expression tell us everything we need to know. He now realizes that Jeffreys will use him to get at Angelica any way he can; Jeffreys even promises him that he’ll “break in the end”.
RF: The farewell scene between John Francis, Angelica, and Beth was heartbreaking, too. He’s touchingly eager and ecstatic to see them and unlike many 17th Century men, he’s very demonstratively affectionate with his wife and daughter. His primary concern is that they be safe; he urges them to go on to the New World and he’ll “follow”, yet he already knows quite well that he likely won’t be able to. He’s spinning a bit of a story to convince them even as he’s ready to sacrifice himself for their safety. Angelica seems to realize this full well, although I’m not sure that Beth does. You’re right that we also get a sense of how devoted he and Angelica are to each other, giving this scene that much more impact. John Francis’ anguish is deep and palpable as they leave and he knows it’s the last time he’ll ever see them, but he manages not to break down until they actually leave. I had big problems with the pacing throughout the episode; however, this scene was extremely well done.
Admin: Will pays a final visit and have another believable and heartfelt scene. John Francis tells a story of when he was a boy: A priest had lived with his family, secretly. He was arrested during Mass and taken to the gallow’s tree, where he was hung for very long. But, he never betrayed those who sheltered him. When it seemed as though he was dead, he was taken to the butcher for quartering. But, he was not dead, as the knife entered his bowels, he cried out the names of John Francis’ parents.
RF: Ooohh, this was horrible! But it reveals what John Francis’ deepest fear is, and what his motivations are. When even a priest’s faith can’t keep him from betrayal, he’s in abject fear that he won’t be able to stop himself from betraying Angelica, either. And he knows Jeffreys knows his weaknesses and is fully prepared to exploit them.
When Jeffreys does his worst to me, Will, I’m very afraid that I will betray Angelica. I pray God that she is out of the country by then.
Admin: Patrick Malahide shows the pain of John Francis. It is heart-wrenching. Will suggests he pray, but John Francis cannot pray because he is now suicidal. When Will swears to protect Angelica, John Francis finally can pray. As he is praying, Will smashes a bottle and uses the sharp glass to cut John Francis’ throat so as to protect him from the cruelty of Judge Jeffreys.
RF: Again, John Francis’ entire concern is that his wife and daughter are safe and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to ensure that they are. Very likely he was already formulating this plan at the time of their visit. Will’s killing him is a final mercy not only in putting him beyond Jeffreys’ clutches and thus saving Angelica, but sparing him the sin of suicide, which would otherwise mean he’d be eternally damned, according to the Catholic faith. It’s a heart-wrenching experience for Will, too. We get the sense that he’s become very close to John Francis. He’d rather do anything than this, but it’s the only service he can offer. Note that here, again, John Francis comforts Will by patting his hand on his (John Francis’) shoulder just before Will does the deed, letting him know he’s forgiven and is doing the right thing.
Admin: It is all very powerful and emotional and heartbreaking. I am terribly disappointed that John Francis died so early in, but his scenes were fantastic and believable and very well acted.
RF: Agreed, Mr. Malahide did an outstanding job with the entire episode. Powerful, tragic, and very moving. I experienced some anguish right along with him, watching this! James McArdle and Eve Best did a wonderful job in their scenes with him as well – very good character interplay. Oh, I was so disappointed that John Francis died two eps in! I was hoping that someone might be able to pull an ace out of the hole and save him somehow – like Abe, who talked a big game but never managed to quite pull it off – but it was not to be.
Admin: A lot of other things happened, but this is getting pretty long so I’ll be brief. King
Snidely Whiplash Charles II (Jeremy Northam) goes to Oxford to dissolve Parliament. He takes a dip in a pond, though on that point I’m not sure why…something religion related maybe. Abe takes a potshot and misses (boy can’t hit the wide side of a barn), passes out and Ned and Beth, who is clocked by Hardwick (why is he always there?), take him to Angelica for some quick first aid. That means Angelica and Beth are delayed and are arrested. Angelica cops a plea to save Beth.
RF: I was totally confused by that dip, too. It seemed very random. Was it some kind of ritual purification ceremony or did King Snidely fancy a swim all of a sudden? Did it have something to do with his dissolving parliament? We just don’t know. What we do know is that Abe needs some serious target lessons. Dude, if you’re going to assassinate a king, you’d better not miss!
RF: Ironically enough, if Angelica and Beth had left when John Francis urged them to – that is, right away – they might not have been caught. The same if Beth had not decided she wasn’t going anywhere until she said goodbye to her terrible-marksman-outlaw-boyfriend. Although you could also argue that none of this might have been precipitated had they not blown up the claypits – well, perhaps that’s not entirely fair since Hardwick and Jeffreys were definitely out to get Angelica and John Francis from the start. But Abe and Beth’s actions certainly didn’t help! Worst of all, Angelica and Beth’s arrest and Angelica’s copping a plea resulting in her execution make John Francis’ death rather pointless. 🙁
Admin: True, claypit explosion or not, Angelica and John Francis were both pretty much doomed. Their only hope could have been to escape the country. But, certainly Angelica and Beth could have escaped to America had Abe not got everyone’s attention with his misfired shot. Oh, Abe….
Admin: In the final scenes, Angelica is to be burned at the stake. She gives a rousing speech about tyrant kings (speech can be heard here) as the King (who, curiously has had no lines in this episode) dissolves Parliament and places a crown on his head. Will Blood, standing on top of a roof, makes good his promise to save Angelica from suffering by shooting her! With nothing to live for, he commits suicide by jumping. Thanks a lot, Abe. :-/
RF: And there’s yet more symbolism as Angelica’s former servant girl gives her a drink on the way to the stake. Angelica does actually get the crowd to listen to her, which might have some positive propaganda effect. I had to respect Will for keeping his vow and according Angelica the same mercy he gave John Francis, thus sparing her the worst agony of being burnt at the stake. But his jumping off the building thereafter… that seemed incredibly pointless to me. He was out of prison and presumably not charged with anything; his father was dead, so Jeffreys no longer had anything to hold over him. Why did he decide to die? Since he was one of the competent characters, I was hoping he might escape into the woods and carry on some real sabotage, or perhaps continue to keep an eye on Beth. I liked his character a lot, so it was very disappointing to see him removed in this way, along with John Francis and Angelica. Were the writers perhaps trying for a “Game of Thrones” vibe?
Admin: I think it was all down to the guilt of losing his father and then his “surrogate” father. Will Blood seems to need a fatherly figure near him, and now he’s lost two in quick succession and (unfairly) blames himself. However, I would have preferred he remain alive and set his sights on avenging their deaths by taking out Judge Jeffreys!
RF: And I also have to say… that the writers and director are packing a lot of story into four episodes, with the result that the pacing seems very rushed. We get a series of vignettes with little to no emotional or story development or even connection to each other, unless the actors (like Mr. Malahide) are very accomplished and able to throw as much as they can into what little screen time they have. But when the emphasis is being placed on the young couples, Abe and Beth in particular, their characterization and chemistry just suffers. Their pairing becomes very paint-by-numbers and uninteresting – which is another reason I’m disappointed we’re stuck with them for the remaining two episodes and aren’t going to get any more of John Francis and Angelica. This could have been a really outstanding series if it had been paced properly.
Admin: I think it was the Radio Times that said it needed more like eight episodes. I agree. It moves so fast that it is difficult to keep track with what is going on. It is a very ambitious drama, and at times extremely captivating and emotional, but the speed is too much. I do feel some of the newspaper criticism is unfair. The best elements are excellent and the intention is very good, with a slower pace it could be a fantastically adventurous and rousing drama.