Review of Season 4 of The Last Kingdom

By John Ruberry

Are you stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown? Here’s another Netflix binge-watching opportunity for you: The Last Kingdom.

Last Sunday Season 4 began was released by the streaming service.

On the old platform of Da Tech Guy I reviewed the first three seasons. Here’s a brief summary: Uhtred Ragnarsson of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), the son of a Northumbrian nobleman, is raised by Danish Vikings, along with another Saxon, Brida (Emily Cox), after his father is killed in a battle. Both of them abandon Christianity and convert to the Norse religion. As adults they serve as bridges, Uhtred much more than Brida, between the Danes and the English. Uhtred, also called “Uhtred the Godless” and “the Daneslayer,” sets his goal to reclaim Bebbanburg, his ancestral castle.

In the first season the four Saxon kingdoms, Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, and Wessex have been conquered by a Danish force later called the Great Heathen Army. Only Alfred (David Dawson), the king of Wessex, puts up an effective resistance. Uhtred and Alfred form an uneasy alliance to defeat the Danes. Wessex of course is that Last Kingdom. Alfred is one of two English kings to be given the moniker “the Great.” The other was Cnut, an 11th century ruler.

The series is based The Saxon Stories books by Bernard Cornwell.

Minor spoilers in the next paragraph:

In the fourth season Bebbanburg, weakened after a siege by the Scots, finally seems within reach of Uhtred. He’s been united with his children, yet another Uhtred (Finn Elliot), a devout Christian, who was largely raised in a monastery, and his daughter, Stiorra (Ruby Hartley), who like the elder Uhtred is conflicted in her relations with Saxons and Danes. Edward (Timothy Innes), who succeeded his father, is the new king of Wessex and has a strong influence over Mercia, where his sister Aethelflaed (Millie Brady) is queen. 

The Viking era of the British Isles lasted over two-and-a-half centuries, ending in that auspicious year of 1066. The Last Kingdom is set roughly half-way into that conflict. If the Danes were to issue a knock-out punch, it needed to be by the Great Heathen Army over Alfred. That didn’t happen so that sets the table for a long series of alliances and betrayals. There is plenty of both in the show, in this season the prominent one is a scheme from the traitor Eardwulf (Jamie Blackley), a member of a fallen Mercian noble family. Meanwhile Alfred’s widow, Aelswith (Eliza Butterworth) weaves her plan to fight the Danes. 

The middle section of Season 4 is overly burdened with plots and counter-plots, made even more confusing because many of the historical characters in The Last Kingdom have similar names. For instance we have Aethelflaed who is married to Aethelred (Toby Regbo). Such similarities can work in books, but the scriptwriters for the series should have changed one of those names. There is more. Aelfwynn (Annamária Bitó) is their daughter. Her grandmother is the aforementioned Aelswith.  While Edward is in Mercia, Wessex is ruled by an ealdorman, Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller). His daughter, Aelflaed (Amelia Clarkson) is married to Edward.

But the season is redeemed by the battle scenes which are quite intense. And of course the later episodes are dominated by major one, a siege with Uhtred and Brita on opposite sides of the walls. The Saxons are led by Edward, the Danes by a new Viking leader, Sigtryggr (Eysteinn Sigurðarson).

A fifth season seems likely as The Last Kingdom has enjoyed a top-ten Netflix viewing all week. One issue that needs to be resolved is that the main characters have barely aged yet Uhtred’s children are in their mid-teens. It’s time for a touch of gray in his hair. And Brida’s too.

The Last Kingdom is rated TV-MA for violence, torture, and nudity.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Review: Season 5 of Peaky Blinders

By John Ruberry

Earlier this month Season 5 of Peaky Blinders arrived on Netflix. If you haven’t heard of the BBC show, it centers on a Gypsy organized crime gang from Birmingham, England.

The Peaky Blinders are named for the razor blades the actual hoodlums,-they were an 1890s gang–wore in their flat caps.

The television Peaky Blinders, who usually refer to themselves as the Shelby Company, Ltd., are led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a World War I veteran. The first season takes place in 1919, Season 5 begins in the auspicious year of 1929.

Tommy, at the end of Season 4, is elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party.

A new season of course brings a new primary villain, this time it’s Sir Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), a minor member of the British nobility who also sits in the House of Commons. If you are American, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Mosley, but he’s one of the most notorious figures of 20th century Great Britain. He didn’t go as far as Benedict Arnold did during the American Revolution, but had the Nazis defeated Britain in World War II, it’s probable that Mosley would have been prime minister—with Edward VIII restored to the throne. A 2005 poll of British historians determined that Mosley was the Worst Briton of the 20th century. Jack the Ripper took the title for the 19th. Mosley not surprisingly was a virulent anti-Semite.

Sir Oswald pursues Tommy as an ally while Winston Churchill (Neil Maskew) does the same. Maskew is the third actor to portray Churchill in this series. What’s up with that?

The Black Tuesday Wall Street Crash puts pressure on the rest of the Blinders, particularly Michael Gray (Finn Cole), who in the first episode of the season awakens from a stupor in Detroit to learn that the Shelby Company money he invested in America has evaporated. He wants a bigger say in the family business, as does his American wife (Anya Taylor-Joy). The family matriarch, Polly Gray (Helen McCrory), Michael’s mother, continues to struggle to keep the family from tearing itself apart, and their battles now directly effect her lover, Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen). Tommy’s older brother, Arthur, continues to battle his “animal inside me.” While Tommy and Mosley, politically speaking, court each other, the Peaky Blinders face a new foe, the Billy Boys, a Scottish Protestant gang, who joyously sing their fight song, which is based on the melody of “Marching Through Georgia.” The Billy Boys hate Gypsies and Catholics–the Shelbys are both.

Peaky Blinders has always played loose with history. Lighten up, though, it’s fiction!

On the other hand…

As 1929 winds down, Mosely announces the formation of a new political party, the British Union of Fascists. But after leaving Labour, the real Mosley first formed another new party, called, well, the New Party. After that came his fascist party. I bring this up because in his introductory speech as leader of the BUF, Mosley, complaining about Indian competition forcing the closing of British textile mills, sounds a bit like Donald Trump, with a dash of UK Independence Party founder Nigel Farage thrown in. I’m not a fan of historical parallels with the present, particularly when it comes to individuals. And I get it, many people believe in “Orange Man Bad.” But sheesh, can TV scriptwriters give us a break from that for once?

I see Season 5, quality wise, as a step back for Peaky Blinders, but better than the Russian sinkhole two seasons back. But a Season 6 apparently is in the works, and maybe even a seventh. And perhaps we will see a couple of other men portray Churchill. The 1930s offers many plotlines as the world marches again to war. Still, even a below-par Peaky Blinders is worth your time.

Peaky Blinders is rated MA. It contains graphic violence, drug use, and overt sexual activity.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.