Socialist Worker

The Last Kingdom will leave you bored between battles

The BBC’s answer to Game of Thrones plays to English nationalism in a time before there was an England. The result is unimpressive, says Robbie Shaw

Issue No. 2477

Publicity for the Last Kingdom, now showing on BBC2

Publicity for the Last Kingdom, now showing on BBC2 (Pic: BBC/Carnival Films/Kata Vermes)


An undercurrent of English  nationalism runs through much of Bernard Cornwell’s novels—and BBC Two’s TV adaptation of his book The Last Kingdom is no different. 

The year is 866 AD and England is under siege from Viking invasion. Northumbria’s three kings march their armies to battle the Danes and are slaughtered.  

The gory death of Uhtred (Matthew Macfadyen), the most warlike king, leaves his child a Viking slave—and the show’s leading man. 

The young Anglo-Saxon nobleman Uhtred junior (Alexander Dreymon) takes a liking to his new owners even as they torture and execute his countryfolk. And—flashing forward to a dashing adolescence—he loves his owner like a father.

But his new Viking home is destroyed and his adoptive father murdered by his uncle, a ruler in cahoots with a rival band of Vikings. 

Uhtred and his girlfriend Brida (Emily Cox) go rogue. Their allegiances to both the Anglo-Saxons and Danes are gone and they search for a “new Lord to service”. He is determined to overthrow his uncle and get his inheritance.

Besieged 

There was no such thing as “England” in 866. But this drama still plays to the idea of Anglo-Saxons defending a “green England” besieged by foreigners. 

Despite marrying the narrative of Hamlet and Game of Thrones style costumes, The Last Kingdom isn’t unique enough to stand out. 

The plot is led by events, lurching from one hostile takeover to another. 

These are fun and might keep you watching. But the lack of interesting character development will sometimes leave you bored between beheadings.

Uhtred’s identity crisis misses the mark and skips over any grief. Without much to work with, Dreymon fails to create a particularly interesting character.

The Last Kingdom also falls way short of passing the “Bechdel test”. That is having at least two women who talk about something other than a man. While Brida’s language is purposefully brash, she just seems to follow Uhtred around.

This reactionary allegory is well conceived—but badly done. If you like power struggles and violence it’s worth a watch—but you might well find yourself looking at your phone in between battles.


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