Review: Season One of The Last Kingdom

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Review: Season One of The Last Kingdom

p12079367_b_v9_acBy John Ruberry

With­out the phe­nom­e­nal box office suc­cess of The Lord of the Rings tril­ogy, HBO’s Game of Thrones series may not have ever launched. And with­out GoT’s ongo­ing crit­i­cal and audi­ence raves, The Last King­dom would almost cer­tainly never have been giv­ing the green light by the BBC.

I just fin­ished binge-​watching the first sea­son of The Last King­dom, which like Game of Thrones is a tele­vi­sion ver­sion of a series of books, in this case Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Sto­ries. I might not have ever heard of the BBC series had not the ninth sea­son of the Doc­tor Who reboot had been bom­barded with Last King­dom trail­ers. I guess that’s the point of promos.

Sea­son two of The Last King­dom is cur­rently in production.

So how is it? Well, in a few words, LK is pretty good. After all, I kept watch­ing, didn’t I?

Here’s how the series is set up – with spoil­ers for the most part that cover only the first half of the first episode:

The action begins in the late ninth cen­tury as Dan­ish invaders – the word “vikings” is never used – have trans­formed them­selves from coastal raiders into a dis­ci­plined army who have con­quered each Eng­lish king­dom save Wes­sex. The lead char­ac­ter is Uhtred of Beb­ban­burg (Alexan­der Drey­mon), the son of a Northum­ber­land noble­men who as a child wit­nesses his father fall in a bat­tle against the invaders. After he humor­ously attacks a Dane, Uhtred is taken as a slave. Los­ing his Chris­t­ian faith, Uhtred the God­less, much in the mat­ter of white char­ac­ters cap­tured by Indi­ans in Old West movies, seems unsure of his loy­al­ties, but he’s deter­mined to reclaim his fam­ily cas­tle from his duplic­i­tous uncle.

An adult Uhtred, after his Dan­ish fam­ily is killed by other Danes, makes his way to Wes­sex where he pledges loy­alty to King Alfred and joins the Saxon cause.

Attrac­tive in a Jon Snow sort of way, Uhtred doesn’t have a vow of chastity to ham­per his roman­tic pursuits.

Reli­gion greatly dri­ves the plot, The priest who bap­tizes the young Uhtred – twice – has also made his way to Wes­sex, where he serves as a coun­selor to Alfred. Refresh­ingly, the Chris­tians in The Last King­dom are pious, but not por­trayed as fool­ishly pious. The only reli­gious char­ac­ter treated with dis­dain is a Dan­ish sorcerer.

Alfred (David Daw­son), the devout king, doesn’t let his sick­li­ness damper his resolve to save his realm and drive the Danes out of England.

Besides Alfred, other his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters who appear in The Last King­dom are the Dan­ish chief­tains Ubba and Guthrum, Sax­ons Odda the Elder, King Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred’s nephew Aethel­wold, and Welsh monk Asser, the biog­ra­pher of the Wes­sex ruler. A glar­ing over­sight is the omis­sion of Ivor the Bone­less, the Dane whose name still per­plexes his­to­ri­ans. Ivor was the half-​brother of Ubba.

The show plays homage to the leg­end that Alfred, asked by a woman to keep an eye on loaves of bread being baked, allows them to burn as his mind wan­ders to press­ing mat­ters of kingship.

The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is superb although the film­ing of the series in Hun­gary, rather than Eng­land, might be the cat­a­lyst of one of LK’s notice­able short­com­ings, cheap-​looking wardrobes and crowns that appear to be plas­tic. If the series was shot in Britain, or even North­ern Ire­land where some of Game of Thrones is filmed, I’m sure the cos­tume depart­ment of The Last King­dom could have scrounged up more con­vinc­ing crowns some bet­ter period clothes from a regional Shake­speare company.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_54680” align=“alignright” width=“175”]John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven John “Lee” Ruberry of the Mag­nif­i­cent Seven[/caption]

If you are look­ing for one more Game of Thrones com­par­i­son, then I won’t let you down. While gra­tu­itous nudity is absent from The Last King­dom, the brief glimpses of bare flesh amid the armor and swords appear forced as if some­one is scream­ing at the direc­tors, “We need naked bums for bet­ter ratings!”

I’ll be back for sea­son two, hop­ing for more. (More mean­ing bet­ter shows, not bare but­tocks.) After all, the Doc­tor Who spin­off Torch­wood didn’t hit its stride until sea­son two and it didn’t achieve con­sis­tent great­ness until The Chil­dren of Earth in sea­son three.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit
.

p12079367_b_v9_acBy John Ruberry

Without the phenomenal box office success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, HBO’s Game of Thrones series may not have ever launched. And without GoT’s ongoing critical and audience raves, The Last Kingdom would almost certainly never have been giving the green light by the BBC.

I just finished binge-watching the first season of The Last Kingdom, which like Game of Thrones is a television version of a series of books, in this case Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories. I might not have ever heard of the BBC series had not the ninth season of the Doctor Who reboot had been bombarded with Last Kingdom trailers. I guess that’s the point of promos.

Season two of The Last Kingdom is currently in production.

So how is it? Well, in a few words, LK is pretty good. After all, I kept watching, didn’t I?

Here’s how the series is set up–with spoilers for the most part that cover only the first half of the first episode:

The action begins in the late ninth century as Danish invaders–the word “vikings” is never used–have transformed themselves from coastal raiders into a disciplined army who have conquered each English kingdom save Wessex. The lead character is Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), the son of a Northumberland noblemen who as a child witnesses his father fall in a battle against the invaders. After he humorously attacks a Dane, Uhtred is taken as a slave. Losing his Christian faith, Uhtred the Godless, much in the matter of white characters captured by Indians in Old West movies, seems unsure of his loyalties, but he’s determined to reclaim his family castle from his duplicitous uncle.

An adult Uhtred, after his Danish family is killed by other Danes, makes his way to Wessex where he pledges loyalty to King Alfred and joins the Saxon cause.

Attractive in a Jon Snow sort of way, Uhtred doesn’t have a vow of chastity to hamper his romantic pursuits.

Religion greatly drives the plot, The priest who baptizes the young Uhtred–twice–has also made his way to Wessex, where he serves as a counselor to Alfred. Refreshingly, the Christians in The Last Kingdom are pious, but not portrayed as foolishly pious. The only religious character treated with disdain is a Danish sorcerer.

Alfred (David Dawson), the devout king, doesn’t let his sickliness damper his resolve to save his realm and drive the Danes out of England.

Besides Alfred, other historical characters who appear in The Last Kingdom are the Danish chieftains Ubba and Guthrum, Saxons Odda the Elder, King Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold, and Welsh monk Asser, the biographer of the Wessex ruler. A glaring oversight is the omission of Ivor the Boneless, the Dane whose name still perplexes historians. Ivor was the half-brother of Ubba.

The show plays homage to the legend that Alfred, asked by a woman to keep an eye on loaves of bread being baked, allows them to burn as his mind wanders to pressing matters of kingship.

The cinematography is superb although the filming of the series in Hungary, rather than England, might be the catalyst of one of LK’s noticeable shortcomings, cheap-looking wardrobes and crowns that appear to be plastic. If the series was shot in Britain, or even Northern Ireland where some of Game of Thrones is filmed, I’m sure the costume department of The Last Kingdom could have scrounged up more convincing crowns some better period clothes from a regional Shakespeare company.

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

If you are looking for one more Game of Thrones comparison, then I won’t let you down. While gratuitous nudity is absent from The Last Kingdom, the brief glimpses of bare flesh amid the armor and swords appear forced as if someone is screaming at the directors, “We need naked bums for better ratings!”

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit
.