It’s 872 and many of England’s kingdoms have succumbed to the invading Norsemen from Denmark, leaving the kingdom of Wessex on its lonesome and defiant, under the leadership of King Alfred (David Dawson). Against this dark setting lives Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon). Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he’s taken prisoner by Danes and raised as a viking. Provoked to choose between his captors-turned-family and his birth family, his loyalties are tested. Is he a Saxon or a Viking? On a journey to take back what’s rightfully his, his kingdom, Uhtred walks a perilous path between both sides. If England is to thrive, he must plays his part in forging a united kingdom and ultimately take back his ancestral seat of power.
Yes, this is the latest in contemporary television’s lineage of medieval-centric dramas. The Last Kingdom moves at wonderful pace, making it engaging and stimulating for its audience. Vikings took some time to get going but once it did, you were hooked. On the other hand, The Last Kingdom is gripping from its opening moments, with its unhinged brutality and “fight-first-talk-later personality.” Both shows are set in similar times with their knights, battles and medieval politics. Based on ‘The Saxon Tales’ by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom is told from an English boy’s perspective, an outsider in a clan of vikings, a show that relies less on style on more on substance.
Uhtred son of Uhtred is meant to inherit an earldom, but then an unfortunate affair sees his father taken from him. Finding himself in a viking camp, he is raised by the Norsemen in the life of a warrior. All of the events of this show happen fast but not too fast that you don’t know what’s happening. It introduces characters and then sends them to their deaths or whatever their fates hold for them. It has no time for audiences to get attached to characters, unlike Vikings, Game Of Thrones or lesser known shows like Wolf Hall or White Queen.
Its fast pace puts its cinematic brilliance on a pedestal. Also, the narrative and characters are stripped back and hence we have no filler episodes. The teleplay displays the right amount of comedy for it to not become too gimmicky in a serious historical drama. Relationships are established between warriors, but also romantic attachments like Uthred with Brida (Emily Cox). The Last Kingdom never wastes a moment, regardless if that’s the establishing characters or badass fight sequences in straightforward mayhem grounded in inter-kingdom warfare. There’s no shortage of blood and brutality.
The Last Kingdom’s narrative is brutal, vigorous and can really dismiss you. It’s full of twists, and turns that meander into something that nobody can predict. When things happen, they slap you in the face. I don’t see half the things that happen coming. It’s shock value done right and I was glued to the screen during my binge. BBC America have delivered a cracking show here. The cinematography is ace, despite it being filmed in winterish colours, like greys and browns. The photography is picturesque to look at. Well, I guess shows filmed in Europe have that effect. Despite being filmed in Hungary, it’s look very much like northern England and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the English countryside, even with perpetually overcast weather.
I don’t know what it is, but why is every BBC period drama of late a hit at home and abroad? It’s no secret that the BBC’s vintage dramas are awesome. It’s not a matter of opinion. That’s just a fact. Period. From Poldark to Ripper Street to Taboo to Peaky Blinders to Call The Midwife and many more: their momentum is not slowing down anytime soon. The Last Kingdom’s acting performances are subtle yet potent. Its sets, costumes and landscapes must be commended as well. What can I say? I have no reason to complain. In essence, this show is what History’s Vikings would be if it was a British production. The chemistry with the different characters is great, especially with Uthred’s identity crisis and Alfred’s fall from grace.
This is a thought-provoking epic tale. Comparisons could be made with Game Of Thrones and Vikings in terms of its political intrigue and violence. Comparisons could also be made with Outlander in terms of its eerie atmospheres and historical fiction roots. Yet, it’s strong enough to stand on its own two feet and certainly a worthy challenger to the other popular medieval-centric period dramas on contemporary television.