ITV’s drama, The Great Fire, aired last night at 9pm in the UK. This morning, I was asked by many on Twitter for my opinions about this show, but as I don’t have access to live television in my house, I was unable to watch it last night. I saw this episode just now on the iTV player and, although it’s more fiction than history, I enjoyed it.
Whilst I enjoyed it, there were things that, as a historian, I have issues with. The people and streets are far too clean. It would have been filthy on the streets, with muck, excrement, and rubbish in the middle. The houses would have been much more poky and very close together. Honestly, this seemed like a Disney version of 1660s London. When I see a period drama series, I want to see grime, sweat, and I want to believe that the people on screen are smelly and dirty.
Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch) is the lead as Thomas Farriner, whose bakeshop caught fire and began the Great Fire of London in 1666. Rose Leslie (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) was very likeable as Farriner’s sister-in-law. Her husband has been missing since the Battle of Lowestoft and he was on the Great Charity, which used to be called Groote Liefde, and was lost to the Dutch in this battle. I was happy that they were at least referring to a real vessel and battle. Hopefully, some viewers will have had their curiosity piqued and proceeded to look up this battle, among other things.
The cast is excellent: Charles Dance as Lord Denton, and Perdita Weeks as Elizabeth Pepys was nice. I was very impressed by how similar in appearance Oliver Jackson-Cohen is to the real James, Duke of York (later James II). I remember Jackson-Cohen from his work in Lark Rise to Candleford, but I didn’t know it was him until I looked him up on the IMDb. Looks-wise, Charles II is spot-on as well, as is Clarendon and Pepys. That being said, the characterisation of Charles II was a bit off, in my opinion, for he said some things that made him seem a fool – which he wasn’t. For those who love Charles II’s amours, the storyline includes Frances Stuart, Barbara Palmer, Catherine of Braganza.
Largely, it was entertaining, especially if you can ignore the anachronistic dialogue at times. Really, some of the lines were not good at all and could easily have been said in the 21st-century, not in the 17th. But I quite liked how the series correctly includes water squirts – which were indeed used to fight the fire.
Unlike Channel 4’s New Worlds, which was just too cringe-worthy for me, I will continue watching this series. Why? The acting is great and I’m interested in seeing what happens next to the characters even though they are more fictional than historical.
And tv and film-makers – PLEASE make more films set in the 17th-century!