You guys are fortunate to get a preposterousprose blog this week. That’s not arrogance on my part but rather a comment on the fact that I’ve been without internet for the better part of this week. I am well aware that if no post presented itself, the world would keep turning unphased. But I do have my fans and my readers, that’s you guys, and you pleasent, diligent few will be pleased to know that at the final hour a technician arrived to sort out the fault in the line, allowing this post to make itself to you.
It had better be worth it then, right? Well, I wish I could say I’m reviewing something extremely entertaining this week, but actually I’m looking at BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom. You can surmise my thoughts on the program from that statement alone but I’d like to dig a little deeper into what is essentially a poor man’s Vikings. Because at the root that’s what this program is. It’s the BBC’s attempt to replicate the success of violent, sword and shield dramas such as Vikings and Game of Thrones but it sorely misses the mark.
Matthew MacFadyen, formerly of BBC’s Ripper Street, appears as Lord Uhtred of the the Kingdom of Northumbria, tasked with fending off a wave of Danes, who have come to claim part of England as their own. Uhtred underestimates the Danes and gets a sword through his throat for his trouble. His son, eager to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of the Danes, sneaks onto the battlefield. Obviously he doesn’t get far, and is captured, being raised among the Vikings. Similarities are easy to make between the young boy Uhtred, and Athelstan, George Blagden’s kidnapped monk in Vikings. Both are taken from their homeland and raised in a foreign culture, constantly battling between the life they knew and the life that have adopted.
However, one key difference is that I never sympathised with Uhtred the way I did with Athelstan. That’s partly to do with perspective. The Last Kingdom is very much shown through the perspective of Uhtred, an English boy but I never got the sense that he was very English or Christian prior to his capture. And he seems to slot quite easily into the new life. Athelstan was very lucky to have Ragnar’s protection in Vikings, but Ragnar did have an ulterior motive and Athelstan still struggled accept some of the pagan customs.
I should say that I’m aware that The Last Kingdom is based on a series of books by Bernard Cornwell, first published in 2004, a little less than ten years before Vikings landed on our screens. But the series itself was only commissioned in 2014, a year after Vikings had already looted our hearts. The timing of the matter leaves it difficult to believe that this isn’t an attempt to cash in on the success of other historical fiction TV series. This isn’t going to quash the Conservative criticism that the BBC “behaves in an overly commercial way encroaching on TV genres and formats that could be served well by its commercial competitors”.
It is great that a fellow writer has seen such success but I do wish the end product was more exciting. The Last Kingdom is more historically accurate than Vikings and the building of the shield wall is a nice visual, but unfortunately the show lacks character depth. This first episode did nothing to get me invested in the show and I don’t know if I’m interested enough to continue watching next week. If you’ve seen Vikings and found yourself thinking ‘I want to see more of England’, then maybe this is for you. Otherwise, skip it.