mon 27/02/2017

The Last Kingdom, Series Finale, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Last Kingdom, Series Finale, BBC Two

The Last Kingdom, Series Finale, BBC Two

Saxon saga reaches bloodthirsty but satisfying climax

David Dawson as King Alfred, with his Saxon entourage

Though Alfred the Great was renowned for educational and social reforms as much as for whupping the Danes on the battlefield, I'd never pictured him the way David Dawson has been playing him in The Last Kingdom. Pallid and sickly-looking, and plagued by all-too-human frailties, this Alfred looked more like a weedy consumptive poet than the midfield dynamo of embattled Ninth Century England.

Yet it paid off in the end, as Alfred summoned all the strength he could find to drag himself and his entourage out of the soggy Somerset marshes (where, last week, he burnt the cakes in finest 1066 and All That fashion) to raise a Saxon army and thwart the Danish menace. Alfred's rallying speech to his troops on the eve of battle found him a changed man, no longer whispering wanly and making effete hand gestures, but suddenly a born leader with fire in his blood.

In about seven minutes of screen time, Uhtred destroyed an entire fleet of Viking longships

"We shall make the ground red with their blood!" he roared. "No mercy!"  The troops took up the "no mercy" refrain like a trainload of away supporters awash in Special Brew, sending it rolling out across the green English meadows to where the Danes waited, cold-eyed, body-painted and very, very hairy, like devotees of some death-metal biker cult.

Of course Alfred couldn't have roused himself and his men for the "one defining battle" he craved to settle matters once and for all without the superhuman efforts of Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon, quite reminiscent of the younger Brad Pitt). Uhtred's story has been the backbone of the series, the fictional hook for author Bernard Cornwell's richly-spun historical backdrop (chapeau, while we're at it, to TV dramatiser Stephen Butchard for a fine sustained effort). Last week, in about seven minutes of screen time, Uhtred skilfully destroyed an entire fleet of Viking longships, then slaughtered their crews by luring them into the depths of the marshy wilderness (Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred, below).   

But they've put poor Uhtred through the emotional wringer. Not only has he had to put up with the slaughter of his Saxon family followed by the massacre of his adoptive Danish family, but in this final episode he was crushed with grief by the discovery of the dead body of his baby son, pitifully wrapped and buried by his estranged wife. Worse still, though his mystical new lover Iseult (Charlie Murphy) – equipped with gifts of healing and prophecy – saved Alfred's sick child and thus immeasurably aided the Saxon cause, she became haunted by the notion that the death of Uhtred's son was the price of saving Alfred's, as ordained by some great cosmic pendulum. And finally, for Uhtred, the triumph of the Saxons in battle was curdled by Iseult's horrible fate.

How can a poor boy stand such times and live? Well he has, and there are seven more Cornwell novels in the queue, so it's a good bet that we'll be seeing a lot more of this decisive and gleefully bloodthirsty warrior and his hazardous milieu. This is right and proper, because The Last Kingdom has been consistently pacy and absorbing, and has illuminated a period of British history which probably needs all the attention it can get. Good job, people.

'The Last Kingdom' has been consistently pacy and absorbing, and has illuminated a period of British history which probably needs all the attention it can get

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

Good review; I've been absolutely glued to this series and hope for more. But please, it's a WRINGER they put poor Uhtred through, not a bunch of bells...

What a powerful ending to this excellent current series! Blood,guts,integrity, heart, loyalty, doubt, belief and disbelief. It's all there! Brilliant story-writing and adaptation. When is the next series.

This series was absolutely riveting. David Dawson as Alfred and Adrian Bower as Leofric were outstanding but overall the acting was of a very high calibre. I will forgive the historical inaccuracies which I believe were included so that the viewers could differentiate between the Danes and the English (Saxon shields were also round - visit any museaum or watch Time Team if you don't believe me. Also, Saxon hair was as long as the Vikings. We have documentary evidence for this). The usual BBC tokenist social engineering in the last episode did raise a few eyebrows however.

What was the 'tokenist social engineering' you were referring to in the last episode?

Each episode a delight and gutted that is finished....now reading the book from the beginning.

I think - the 'tokenist social engineering' reference is linked to the Indian/dark faces in the crowd. But it was possible. Indian traders would have been found in Constantinople - as would have Moors - and we know that Med. traders were operating out of Cornwall. Alfred's Kingdom would have sucked in high value imports such as wine - in exchange for tin, furs and hunting dogs.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters