The Great Fire begins on ITV at 9PM Thursday 16 October.
It’s the summer of 1666. Thomas Farriner is the King’s baker, supplying bread and biscuit for the Navy, who are currently at war. A widower and single-father, Thomas works alongside his daughters Mary and Hannah, with a little help from his sister-in-law, Sarah Farriner, in his Pudding Lane bakery.
Times are hard and Sarah’s wayward husband (and Thomas’ brother) has been missing at sea for many months. Although she’s unable to move on, there’s no denying the crackle between Thomas and Sarah as she departs to prepare for the return of her employer, the Duke of Hanford.
Thomas heads off with the Navy delivery and when he arrives at the Navy yards, it quickly becomes clear he’s not going to be paid for all the work he’s done. Thomas discusses his lack of payment with Navy official Samuel Pepys and is dismayed to learn there is no hope of payment due to the expense of the war. However, Pepys is able to help Thomas in another way and he sends him away with a letter confirming the fate of Will Farriner.
Across the city in the palace of Whitehall, the King is at a stately dance, enjoying his many spoils and women in full view of his wife, the Queen. Amidst the reverie a terrifying assassination attempt is foiled by the King’s Intelligence Officer, Lord Denton. Under interrogation, the assassin reveals he’s a Catholic fanatic and a former employee of Sarah’s boss, the Duke of Hanford, who Denton has under surveillance. Is there some kind of larger Catholic plot in the works? The King registers concern but surprisingly his brother, James Duke of York, stands up for Hanford.
Samuel Pepys enjoy a game of Pall Mall with the King but returns home to find his wife Elizabeth with her dance teacher. Jealous and hurt, he slips away to visit a prostitute.
At the bakery, a troubled Thomas leaves his daughter Hannah in charge and heads to his sister-in-law with a heavy heart. Meanwhile, Sarah is visited by a ‘Mr Wickes’, supposedly a kindly man from church, but who reveals himself to be Lord Denton. He asks that she act as an informant on her employer, Hanford. And gives her a couple of hours to decide. Seeing Denton from afar, Thomas assumes Sarah is courting the so-called ‘Mr Wickes’ and decides against delivering her the letter from Pepys.
Thomas returns home to Pudding Lane to find the bakery ablaze and his two daughters asleep upstairs, blissfully unaware of the fire below. Thomas scrabbles to get the girls out, only just escaping the flames by climbing across the roof, before his home is completely consumed. He sends the girls to Sarah’s lodgings while he attempts to contain the fire. But upon receiving them, Sarah goes to look for Thomas. Out on the street, she is snatched by Denton’s men and thrown in the back of a prison carriage…