The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
To the English, these words are a reminder of their history, the first words of the folk verse entitled “The Fifth of November,” which was written around 1870 about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where English Catholic Robert Catesby and his co-conspirators planned an elaborate plot to kill King James I of England and invest his nine-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth on the throne as a Catholic monarch. The primary act of this plot was to blow up Parliament during the State Opening on November 5, during which the King, his nearest relatives, members of the Privy Council, and both Houses of Parliament, which included the senior judges of the English legal system, most of the Protestant aristocracy, and the bishops of the Church of England as members of the House of Lords, would be present. One of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was arrested beneath the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was tried, convicted, and executed along with seven of his fellow conspirators (Catesby himself was shot and killed while making a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men). Today it is Fawkes, not Catesby, who is immortalized in remembrance of these events, as November 5th is now alternately known as Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, or Guy Fawkes Day.
To many Americans, however, these words are better known as the opening words of V for Vendetta, the movie based on the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. The Gunpowder Plot is the starting point and inspiration of the events of the movie, set in the London of the near-future.
It’s tradition in our house to watch V for Vendetta every November 5th, as the date is pivotal to the plot of the movie, just as it’s tradition every October 31st to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. Some dates are integral to some of the movies we watch, like the ones above; some dates are incidental details in others, like May 25th (the date of the climactic battle scene in The Last Samurai), but it’s my belief that most of the dates on the calendar can be represented by at least one movie.
I’ve long had the idea of researching this to see how well it would pan out, curious to see if an entire year’s worth of movies can be found. I’ve uncovered a few, but I know there are a lot of obvious ones out there that deal with historical events that can be added to a cinematic calendar (for instance, Pearl Harbor for December 7th). I might spend the next year or two trying to do research and then write a book about my findings if I can successfully complete the calendar.
As for tonight, however, I’ll be curled up on the couch with my wife, enjoying V for Vendetta, and keeping our tradition alive.
Incidentally, for the curious, I’ve included the remainder of the poem that started this post below. Many of us, for whatever reason, know that part. I would wager few of us know the whole thing.
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!