Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

‘The Great Fire’ Review

The Great Fire of London (1666), which began on Pudding Lane, recently became the focus of an ITV drama. The city of London, made predominantly fromtimber buildings, burned for 3 days, leaving 70,000 of 80,000 inhabitants of London homeless.This series dramatizes some of the events that took place while London burned, however it becomes over-embellished with modern stories of love and betrayal, shying away from political and economic undercurrents that were flooding the city.

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In this ITV drama we follow characters from the widower of Pudding Lane bakery, to the Seething Lane residence of philandering diarist Samuel Pepys, up to the court of King Charles II. The mini-series dissects and illuminates the class divides in Restoration London. The story begins with Tom Farriner, a baker for the King’s navy, having to go without payment due to the King’s reckless spending. After the fire breaks out at Farriner’s bakery the divide between rich and poor develops further. Whilst peasants flee from their homes, lynching and looting all they can, the King indulges himself in croquet and courtesans as he remains ignorant about the social and economic problems heightened by the fire. Samuel Pepys, whose diaries have provided us with invaluable documentation for the retelling of this disaster, is the only officialto be blunt with Charles II and warn him of a potential rebellion (and of course they manage to put a line in about him burying his cheese in the garden). Charles strongly encouraged evacuations and resettlements away from London in fear of rebellion, even after his advisors, concerned for money purposes,declaredthat it wasn’t that serious and “a woman might piss it out”.

 

Whilst thistension is mounting, a sub-plot emerges of plottinganti-monarchist Catholics, and we learn of the potential loss of Farriner’s brother at sea during the second Anglo-Dutch war. The love story between the baker and his brother’s wife seems unnecessary, detracting from the political issues London was facing.

THE_GREAT_FIRE. King Charles II the historyvault.co.uk

Through historical and fictional characters, London family life and a decadent monarchy, we see a recreation of the experiences of Restoration London. Whilst useful for documenting some of the events that took place during the fire, the modern-day speech does little to develop the working-class characters, and by romanticising some of the eventsthis new slant shies away from the true political and economic problems the fire posed to the city of London.

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