Could The Last Kingdom, BBC2’s new 8-part epic medievalist drama which begins this Thursday 22nd October at 9pm, be another Game of Thrones?
It has the credentials – based on the 9 Saxon Stories novels (just two of them used for this programme) by Sharpe author Bernard Cornwell, and produced by the award-winning team from Downton Abbey. It stars Alexander Dreymon as Saxon ‘hero’ Uhtred, Emily Cox as love interest Brida (both are kidnapped as children by VikIngs), Matthew MacFadyen as Uhtred’s father, plus Rune Temte, David Dawson and Rutger Hauer. It has Viking longships, great locations, full-on action, brutal battles filmed with handheld cameras, and a sound foundation in historical accuracy. The complete city of Winchester – the 9th century capital of Wessex – was recreated in Goboljaras in Hungary. The Battle of Eoforwic we witness in episode 1 took four days to film in present-day York (where else?). A fleet of Viking longships was set on fire on a Hungarian lake. And a real-life, fully-working one – The Sea Stallion – was taken from a Danish museum and launched as part of the Viking invasion in the opening scenes. The actors had to get to grips, too, with the finer details of falconry, fighting with wooden, iron-rimmed shields and how to wear the specially-made authentic costumes.
The year is 872AD. The place is the north-east coast of England. The rulers are Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg – one of the 3 provinces of Northumbria – and the Viking Earl Ragnar. Danish warriors are heading, at speed, towards the beach as Northumbria becomes the third of the four provinces of England to fall to Viking law. East Anglia and Mercia have already gone. Only Wessex in the south, ruled by king Alfred the Great, remains. This is the last kingdom. Blink and you will miss it.
Read more: Bernard Cornwell’s fictional hero Uhtred weaves his way through the historically accurate Saxon Stories. He’s based on a real-life relative of the author who was adopted as a child and didn’t meet his biological father until he was 58 years old. Through that meeting Cornwell was able to trace a family line that goes back to the 6th century when Ida the Flame Bearer captured the rock upon which present-day Bamburgh, one of my all-time favourite places, is built. Cornwell tells how his father’s last name was Oughtred – which he traced to Uhtred the Bold, descendant of Ida’s family – who once ruled from Bamburgh Castle – and Saxon elderman of Northumbria, 1006-16.