[This is a review of the series premiere of The Last Kingdom. There will be SPOILERS.]
BBC America's newest sword and shield epic will undoubtedly and unfairly be compared to HBO's Game of Thrones within the first five minutes of viewing this well-crafted premiere. This is a shame, since The Last Kingdom is a much different kind of beast, and a welcomed one at that.
For starters, if you were going to compare The Last Kingdom to any series, then it would be more accurate to say that the show resembles History's popular Vikings saga, which will be back for its fourth season in the early part of 2016. In fact, this show is more of a direct sequel to the aforementioned series than an interpretation, or copycat. The Last Kingdom stands alone, and excels at telling a story both compelling and unique.
Based on The Saxon Stories written by Bernard Cornwell, TLK tells the story of Uhtred, a young man who begins his life in the most violent of ways. When the Danes attack the young boy's Kingdom of Bebbenburg, his father (Lord Uhtred) being the warrior king that he is, goes off to face the formidable Vikings before they annihilate his people. Well, if you've seen Vikings, then you know the Scandinavians are skilled warriors and always seem to have an edge over the men and women of England. Sadly for young Uhtred, this battle was no different, as his father's men are outflanked by the Danes.
Earl Ragnar of the Danes is attacked by Uhtred who has no chance of victory, but his ferocity and bravery earn him the respect of the legendary Viking and he takes him in as a servant/ward, along with another English orphan named Brida. Since Uhtred's "evil" uncle wants him dead, Ragnar eventually ends up accepting the boy as his own son. After losing his first father, Uhtred now has another and with that, a sort of identity crisis begins to ensue. Is he a Dane, or a Northumbria man a heart?
Well, when the story jumps several years into the future, we find Uhtred has grown into a formidable young man under the tutelage of Earl Ragnar, so at this point in the story, he desires nothing more than to please his father and be a good Viking. Even when his adopted father encourages him to "hook up" with the now beautiful Brida (Emily Cox), Uhtred pauses and tells Ragnar that he thought he would have to marry a Dane to be considered a proper Dane himself. It seems that when you are the infamous Ragnar, you can bend the rules for your adopted son. We don't know much about Brida from the premiere, but she appears to be just as strong and fearsome as Uhtred; two England born kids who have grown up under the careful watch of the Danes. Their relationship should be one of the more interesting plot-lines as this series continues.
Older Uhtred, who is played by the handsome American Horror Story: Coven alum Alexander Dreymon does a solid job of portraying this tortured young warrior who is caught between two worlds. When Ragnar's home is attacked by his Uncle's spies, Uhtred and Brida find themselves too late to save their comrades. Only Ragnar's daughter (Thyra) remains alive, but it's hard to tell if he sees her, as he curls up into a fetal position and begins to sob. And who can blame him, since he has now lost two fathers in so short a time. Again, the question of who Uhtred wants to be comes back into question. Perhaps him being both a child of England and the Vikings makes him the perfect candidate to bring this collection of kingdoms together? The Last Kingdom's subtitle reads "England is Born," so it appears that Uhtred will be that spark that ignites the flame. Only time will tell.
The Last Kingdom is blessed with a talented group of actors ranging from veterans like Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) who plays the Viking Ravn, and on the side of Northumbria, it was nice to see Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice) who is one of Hollywood's more underused actors. Sadly, both of these skilled individuals won't live to see another episode, but they helped ground the series as we watch young Brida and Uhtred mature into adulthood. If you look at the casting sheet, there are many more characters to come. The Last Kingdom is the first book in The Saxton Stories, so hopefully with the show's success, we will get to see more from this popular book series.
Will all of these historical/fantasy epics, like The Bastard Executioner, Game of Thrones, and Vikings dominating the television landscape, do you think The Last Kingdom can stand outfrom the rest? Stay tuned to see what happens next.
The Last Kingdom will continue next Saturday @10pm on BBC America. Check out a behind the scenes look of the show below:
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