To liken this lavish BBC production as their take on Game of Thrones would be to do this highly enjoyable series a disservice. While both are works of fiction and both are based on a series of successful novels, The Last Kingdom – the first in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories collection – weaves its narrative within a rich tapestry that is the history of this Sceptered Isle.
Centred about a Saxon boy – kidnapped by the invading Vikings – we follow Uhtred’s story as, born a Saxon but raised a Viking, his conflicted loyalties see him torn between heritage and bond. Wonderfully played by German actor Alexander Dreymon, Uhtred’s godlessness is a constant bane for King Alfred, played by David Dawson and Father Beocca, played by Ian Hart. That Mr Dawson lends a pious nature to the King imbues a temperament of a Kingdom ready to fully receive the one true God and demonstrates the changes that occurred within the realm at that time. Mr Hart’s Beocca exemplifies an unwavering conviction in the power of God, hoping he is the conduit to allow his King to completely understand His ways. Both actors have created memorable characters and allow the viewer to better appreciate the historical context of the narrative. But please be under no illusion, this is not viewing to be preached at – it is just the way of the Kingdom in AD872.
There is also exemplary work from a fully international cast, with great turns from Matthew Macfadyen, Rutger Hauer (Dutch), Emily Cox (Austrian), Rune Temte (Norwegian), Thomas W. Gabrielsson (Swedish) and Peter Gantzler (Danish). This use of international actors lends a lilt to the delivery and rounds out the performances to great effect. As is the nature of the world circa 9th century AD, the need to explore, take, conquer and/ or defend means we are never short of a battle or two. Here, The Last Kingdom pulls no punches, notching the violence up to 10 and leaving us under no illusion as to the bloody nature of fighting. There may also be a level of bare flesh – both male and female – but I couldn’t possibly comment. Suffice to say it isn’t a Game of Thrones season 1 level of nakedness, but there is some nonetheless. Perhaps that’s where the GoT comparisons have come from.
But that’s not why you should seek out The Last Kingdom. This is an 8 episode narrative, set within an historical context that simply bowls along and takes its viewers with it. We are made to create an emotional connection with all the characters – whether good or bad – and we care about where it will lead us. This is television writing of the highest order and an outstanding quality of programme we don’t see too often on this side of the pond. Beautifully shot (the locations used both in the UK and Hungary are wonderful), adeptly directed and with acting of the highest order, I urge you to spend some time in 9th century England. You won’t be disappointed.
Thank you for reading 🙂
The Last Kingdom is available on Blu-Ray & DVD