The Last Kingdom preview

Last year we reported that the BBC was going to produce The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell’s best selling novels. Next month the series premieres on BBC America. 

Set in the Viking age and expected to compete with Game of Thrones and Vikings, the new historical action series tells the story of how England was formed. The year is 872, and many of the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Danes, leaving the great kingdom of Wessex standing alone and defiant under the command of King Alfred. Against this turbulent backdrop lives our hero, Uhtred. Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is captured by the Danes and raised as one of their own. Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are ever tested. What is he? Saxon or Dane? On a quest to reclaim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and, ultimately, recapture his ancestral lands.


-Cornwell’s Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way. We believe it will make original and engrossing television drama. In part the epic quest of our hero Uhtred, it is also a fascinating re-telling of the tale of King Alfred the Great and how he united the many separate kingdoms on this island into what would become England, executive producer Gareth (Downton Abbey) Neame said. He warned against comparing the new show to Game of Thrones, though. -I’m a huge admirer of Game Of Thrones but that is fantasy. We have no dragons. The facts behind [our show] are true. [What they have in common is the action and the battles] but this has a much more documentary feel about it. If you must liken The Last Kingdom to another TV series, go with Downton Abbey or The Tudors, Neame added. He went on to say he was inspired by The Tudors, which was developed in the US. Neame thinks that that show could never have been made in the UK, since the British “can be so obsessive about our history and getting it right”.

Neame also said that making a Viking show about ye olde England was a challenge, as no buildings and no paintings exist from that era. -For people in the United States, England is that place that’s always been there. The idea that there was a time before it even existed was intriguing to me. The first English king wasn’t painted until hundreds and hundreds of years after this time.

The main characters, as presented by BBC America:

Lord Uhtred
Uhtred’s father, Lord Uhtred, is a formidable fighter and leader of men, and ruler of the kingdom of Bebbanburg in Northumbria. He is a serious and rather distant man whose commitments to Bebbanburg leave little time for his two sons. Young Uhtred struggles to win his father’s affection and approval.

Born of Saxon nobility but raised a Dane, Uhtred grows up with a conflicted identity. A natural warrior, Uhtred is a leader of men, fearless, instinctive, and driven by a deep-seated need to reclaim his homeland of Bebbanburg, Northumbria. Quick-witted, impetuous with a taste for danger, he follows his gut and abhors the prayer, fasting, and obedience so precious to King Alfred. Like a Dane he believes life should be lived passionately and fully. He has charm, energy, charisma and an underlying sense of justice — qualities which make him very attractive to women. But his impulsiveness and irreverence sometimes land him in trouble.

As the King who dreamt of uniting the separate kingdoms of England, Alfred has integrity and true gravitas. Where Uhtred is gallant and daring, Alfred is a thinker and master strategist, yet troubled by poor health. A man of great wisdom, he is committed to the power of the written word and the spread of Christianity. Learned, pious and cautious — the responsibilities of leadership rest heavily on Alfred’s shoulders, but his faith and inner strength are forever tested by his habitual infidelities. Despite these vulnerabilities he remains determined. Even Uhtred, who first sees Alfred as a humorless nit-picker, grows to admire the man who will become known as King Alfred the Great.

Alongside Uhtred, Brida is captured as a child and raised by Danes. Brida and Uhtred’s similar fates bind them as kindred spirits; the two become best friends and lovers. Fearless, gutsy, outspoken, and a born fighter, Brida immediately feels at home in the boisterous world of the Danes.

The most senior ranking Dane, Ubba is a mountain of a man — loud, brash, violent, playful and a little unhinged. A ferocious warrior, Uhtred is warned as a boy never to fight Ubba, but fate may dictate that he must. Ubba’s weakness is his superstition and his reliance on his sorcerer Storri.

Earl Ragnar
A formidable and infamous Danish warlord, Earl Ragnar is fearless, charming, and a natural leader — but also a warm-hearted family man. Devoted to his son, Ragnar the Younger, he doesn’t hesitate to also take Uhtred under his wing, seeing spark and courage in the Saxon boy. Uhtred sees Ragnar as his true father.

Alexander Dreymon (American Horror Story) leads the cast, supported by Emily Cox (The Silent Mountain) as Brida, David Dawson (Peaky Blinders) as King Alfred, Rune Temte (Eddie the Eagle) as Ubba, Matthew Macfadyen (Ripper Street) as Lord Uhtred, Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) as Ravn, Ian Hart (Boardwalk Empire) as Beocca, Tobias Santelmann (Point Break) as Ragnar the Younger, Peter Gantzler (Italian For Beginners) as Earl Ragnar, Adrian Bower (Mount Pleasant) as Leofric, Joseph Millson (Penny Dreadful) as Aelfric and Henning Valin Jakobsen (The Bridge) as Storri.

The directors of season one’s 8 hour-long episodes are Nick Murphy (Prey, Occupation), Anthony Byrne (Mr Selfridge, Ripper Street), Ben Chanan (True Horror, Cyberbully), Peter Hoar (Da Vinci’s Demons, Vera). Production began last November, and the series was shot in Hungary, Denmark and Wales, based on a script by BAFTA nominated and RTS award-winning writer Stephen Butchard (Five Daughters, Good Cop).

Made by Carnival Films (Downton Abbey) for the BBC network, The Last Kingdom is a show of “heroic deeds and epic battles but with a thematic depth that embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity”. Combining real historical figures and events with fictional characters, it is the story of how a people combined their strength under one of the most iconic kings of history in order to reclaim their land for themselves.

Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom-novels was first published in 2004, with new installments coming out almost every year since. The 9th novel Warriors of the Storm  is scheduled to come out October 9th this year.

The Last Kingdom starts on Saturday October 10 on BBC America and later in the UK on BBC Two.



BBC to film The Last Kingdom

The BBC and Downton Abbey‘s producer has teamed up to create the historial drama The Last Kingdom, set in the Viking age and expected to compete with Game of Thrones.

This week, it was announced that the BBC, together with Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films, have joined forces to develop and film the Viking series The last kingdom. To be shown in the UK on BBC Two and on BBC America, the 8-episode series will be based on Bernard Cornwell’s popular Saxon Stories novels, with the script being written by Stephen Butchard, the BAFTA nominated and RTS award-winning screenwriter of Good Cop, Five Daughters, and House Of Saddam. Bernard Cornwell (pictured below) was previously known for his Sharpe novels, which were turned into a series of TV movies starring Sean Bean.

Set in pre-England in 872, several kingdoms have become victims of invading Vikings. The kingdom of Wessex is alone in the war against the raiding Northernes, and Alfred the Great is one of the few who can hold up the defence. One of the victims is Uhtred, son of a Saxon nobleman. Uhtred was orphaned by the Vikings, then kidnapped and brought up as a Viking. This puts him in a dilemma, both personally and politically, as he takes part in the creation of a new nation.

-Cornwell’s Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way. In the hands of Stephen Butchard we believe it will make original and engrossing television drama. In part the epic quest of our hero Uhtred, it is also a fascinating re-telling of the tale of King Alfred the Great and how he united the many separate kingdoms on this island into what would become England, executive producer Gareth Neame said.

Neame, who won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for Downton Abbey, added: -How England was once a group of separate smaller Kingdoms and how its inhabitants the Anglo-Saxons forced out their Viking invaders and came together for the first time as a single entity called England. 

Richard De Croce, senior VP Programming for BBC America commented: -We couldn’t be more pleased to be working with BBC Two and Carnival Films – a hugely successful British production company that really knows how to create a hit for the US. The last kingdom is an engrossing story of epic scale that will feed our audience’s appetite for excitement, smart storytelling and compelling characters.

Bernard Cornwell’s The last kingdom was first published in 2004, with new installments coming out almost every year since. The 8th book is scheduled to be released this October.

Ben Stephenson, drama controller of the BBC, said: -I hope The kast kingdom will expand BBC Two’s distinctive portfolio of drama. It’s an epic narrative with an extraordinary creative team. It will feel like nothing else on television, with all of the scale and intrigue of the best fantasy stories but the reality of fact. The BBC hopes that the show will become a long-running franchise, as the 8 novels holds enough material for multiple seasons.

Some of the characters of the series are given, thanks to the novels, and the series will mix actual historical persons with fictional characters, with themes like politics, warfare, religion and identity being explored. The last kingdom is expected to compete with Game of Thrones and Vikings and will offer “heroic deeds and epic battles”, according to Carnival Films, for example when warriors like Ivar the Boneless and his feared brother Ubba takes action. But unlike the HBO fantasy series, The last kingdom is a fictional world rooted in reality, about the birth of England.

Butchard, Neame, Chrissy Skinns (Mr Selfridge) and Nigel Marchant (Dracula, Downton Abbey) will produce the series, with Nick Murphy (Prey, Occupation) co-executive producing and also directing several episodes.

Fictional characters in the novels:

  • Uhtred – the protagonist, narrator, dispossessed Ealdorman of Bebbanburg originally called Osbert
  • Earl Ragnar the Fearless – Danish warlord who adopts Uhtred
  • Ragnar Ragnarsson (Ragnar the Younger) – Ragnar’s son, Uhtred’s foster brother and close friend
  • Rorik Ragnarsson – Ragnar’s younger son and Uhtred’s childhood friend
  • Thyra Ragnarsdottir – Ragnar’s daughter kidnapped by Kjartan
  • Brida – East Anglian Saxon girl, Uhtred’s lover and friend
  • Sigrid – Earl Ragnar’s wife and mother to Ragnar the Younger, Rorik and Thyra
  • Ravn – blind skald and Earl Ragnar’s father
  • Sven Kjartansson – Uhtred’s sworn enemy and Kjartan’s son
  • Kjartan – Danish shipmaster who destroys Uhtred’s future
  • Father Beocca – Alfred’s priest and Uhtred’s family friend
  • Mildrith – Uhtred’s pious West Saxon wife
  • Leofric – Uhtred’s friend, warrior and shipmaster
  • Odda the Younger – Ealdorman Odda’s son and Uhtred’s enemy
  • Ælfric – Uhtred’s uncle and usurper of the throne of Bebbanburg
  • Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg – Uhtred’s father
  • Gytha – Uhtred’s stepmother

Historical characters in the novels:

  • King Alfred of Wessex (Alfred the Great) – the King of Wessex
  • Æthelflæd – Alfred’s eldest daughter, Lady of the Mercians.
  • Guthrum the Unlucky – Danish warlord called the unlucky
  • Ubba Lothbroksson – Danish warlord feared by many, older brother to Ivar and Halfdan
  • Ivar Lothbroksson (Ivar the Boneless) – Danish warlord feared by many, brother to Ubba and Halfdan
  • Halfdan Lothbroksson – Danish warlord and younger brother of Ubba and Ivar
  • Ælswith – Alfred’s wife who dislikes Uhtred
  • Æthelwold – Alfred’s nephew and friend of Uhtred
  • Ealdorman Odda – Earldorman of Wessex
  • King Edmund of East Anglia
  • King Osbert of Northumbria

The series, which will start shooting in the autumn, is planned to open on TV in 2015.