Culture, TV

Review: Last Kingdom (BBC TV)

The Last KingdomDespite a funky electronic/tribal soundtrack and a leading man (Alexander Dreymon – Resistance) tilting at Luke Evans/Orlando Bloom charisma, this adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s Dark Age British historical adventure is strangely inert.

How do you make the violent years of Saxons resisting Danish invasion dull? Somehow the BBC managed it. Which is curious given the romping Napoleonic success of that other Cornwell series, Sharpe.

The Last Kingdom is Wessex, to sole hold-out against the invasion of England by the Danes. Although England at this time isn’t a country, so why everyone bangs on patriotically about England is mystery number one. And the ‘English’ at this time are descendants of Angles, Saxons and Jutes anyway – all invaders.

From the time our leading man Uttred, son of Uttred, sees his father (MatthewMacFadyen – Anna Karenina) killed in episode one’s great battle scene, to grow up as Saxon slave in thrall to a Danish Lord, you would think there’d be plenty of blood, fire and conflict to keep this rolling along.

But no, The Last Kingdom is wordy, processional, and so far up it’s own historical drama tailpipe, it leaves out several key elements; the principal being a leading man you actually like. They have latched onto Cornwell’s anti-hero; vain, rash, impulsive, angry, cynical, greedy, vengeful, rude, arrogant; and made those his redeeming features – leaving us a trailing after a foolish man-cub, crashing around the eighth century in search of a quick death. Unfortunately, the luckiest pagan slave-nobleman in England doesn’t get one. By Odin’s beard, Uttred is utterly insufferable.

The screen lights up for the supporting cast – the warrior cheiftain of the Danes, Ubba (Rune Temte); the wiley politician-king Alfred (David Dawson – The Borgias), and long-suffering priest Beoca (Ian Hart – Potter, Boardwalk Empire). But when your lead character is such an ass you really don’t care if he lives or dies, you’d rather have a straight historical bio-pic of Alfred and the Danes because they are far more interesting than Uttred’s lucky passenger to English history.

His two leading ladies – Emily Cox’ (Homeland) sassy Brida and Amy Wren’s (Silk, Skins) upstanding Mildrith – come and go without leaving a dent in Uttred’s bloody recklessness.

That’s not to say the spiky, brutal script doesn’t have it’s moments; but it’s baggy, pedestrian and has nothing new to say, while losing Cornwell’s historical detail; and most of the audience.

The dragon-headed-longship landing on Last Kingdom’s beach belongs to the HBO series Vikings, which has twice the bugdet, twice the charsima, a leading man who is also an ass, but carries us along with a brio and a gusto that Last Kingdom lacks.

If that doesn’t appeal, then do yourself a favour and seek out Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in The Vikings (1952); it treads much the same territory while being ten times the corny fun. RC

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


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