The Last Kingdom: Netflix action adventure series
■ By Jim Hitt / Media Columnist
For more than a year, I put off watching this show. I loved the Saxon novels of Bernard Cornwell on which the series is based. Let’s face it, the books are always better than the films or television shows. Right?
My daughter convinced me to watch the series, and once I finished the second season, I concluded that The Last Kingdom is as good as the novels.
In ninth-century England, a Saxon boy, Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) sees his village burned and his family killed by Danes who take him prisoner. Raised as a Viking, he returns to England and joins King Alfred (David Dawson) in his defense of Wessex, the only English kingdom free of Danish control.
In the books, Uhtred narrates the story. The television series opens up the events. Scenes occur in which Uhtred is not present and could have little knowledge. The audience is present when the antagonists scheme, which creates additional suspense. As Hitchcock once observed, you show a bus, it blows up, you have no suspense. Show a bus, show a bomb ticking, show the faces of the passengers, you have suspense.
Although King Alfred and Uhtred become allies, neither completely trusts the other. Alfred, a Christian, is always suspicious of Uhtred, a pagan. Uhtred believes Alfred’s Christian piety endangers their goals. Despite their misgivings, they form a bond to forge a single England.
The story provides plenty of room for blood and guts action, although gratuitous violence is kept to a minimum. Let’s face it. Britain during the time of Alfred the Great was no vacation paradise. War was continuous for most of his reign. When violence erupts, it comes out of the situation and the characters. Idealistic Alfred constantly strives for peace, but realistic Uhtred keeps the monarch grounded in reality. Often our hero finds himself pitted against treacherous villains on his own side, as well as the Danes anxious to crush Wessex.
Uhtred has several relationships with women who influence him in a fundamental ways. Hild (Eva Brithistle), a nun-warrior, fights by Uhtred’s side. Brita (Emily Cox), a Saxon raised by the Danes, takes up with Uhtred’s Viking brother Ragnar (Tobias Santelmann), and together they weld war against Saxons and Danes. Uhtred is often torn between the world of the Danes who raised him and the world of Alfred to whom he has pledged loyalty.
Since this is a British production, most of the actors are British, although Alexander Dreymon who plays Uhtred is German. His English accent is flawless. David Dawson as Alfred appears to have stepped right from the pages of the novels.
If I have a complaint of the series, it centers around the role of women. They tend to influence events in secondary roles, as lovers, warriors or wives. They react to events, but they seldom move them forward. Of course, in ninth-century Britain, opportunities were limited for women, so my quibble is a minor one. My modern sensibilities muddy historical realities.
A third season is due out in 2019.
Wrap up: A terrific action adventure series, but not for the squeamish. We’ll grade it A-.
Jim Hitt is a multi-degreed local author who wrote The American West, From Fiction into Film (McFarland, 1991) and Words and Shadows (Citadel, 1993), an examination of American literature’s role in film. He has published numerous novels, and his awards include “best fantasy story,” OnceWritten.com, and “grand prize, fiction,” Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His latest novel, Bodie, was released Sept. 1 published by Black Horse Press. Jim can be reached at email@example.com.