BBC plots Game of Thrones-style drama The Last Kingdom with Downton Abbey producers

The new epic series set in King Alfred's England is coming to BBC2 next year

It promises to be an epic drama full of bloody battles over ancestral lands. The BBC is hoping for a Game of Thrones-style hit with a new series depicting the struggle between the Saxons and Viking warlords.

The Last Kingdom, coming to BBC2 next year, is a collaboration between BBC America and Carnival Films, the award-winning producers who turned Downton Abbey into a global blockbuster.

Based on Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of “Saxon stories”, the drama is set in England during the reign of King Alfred, when “the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Vikings and the great kingdom of Wessex has been left standing alone and defiant.”

Merging historical fact and fiction, The Last Kingdom’s hero is Uhtred, born the son of a Saxon nobleman, who is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own.

Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, Uhtred treads a dangerous path between Saxon and Viking as he seeks to recapture his ancestral lands.

Fans of Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy hit, will be reassured that The Last Kingdom promises similar elements – there will be “heroic deeds and epic battles” as well as bone-crunching clashes involving warriors like Ivar the Boneless and his feared brother, Ubba.

But Carnival said the series would be quite different from Game of Thrones, which is pure “fantasy”, whereas The Last Kingdom is a franchise of historical novels about the birth of England.

 

The Last Kingdom promises a “thematic depth that embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity.”

Gareth Neame, executive producer, who won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for Downton Abbey, said: “This is not Game of Thrones - brilliant though that show is, ours is a historical drama based on the real events around the time of King Alfred the Great and the foundation of England.

"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.

"Cornwell's Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way. In the hands of Stephen Butchard  (screenwriter), 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."

Shooting begins in the Autumn for the series, which will run for eight hour-long episodes. With eight Saxon Stories novel published, the BBC hopes The Last Kingdom will become a long-running show like Game of Thrones, which has been renewed for a fifth and sixth season after its fourth run recorded record viewing figures.

No Viking drama can be complete without its share of rape and pillage. But the BBC series is unlikely to match the explicit sex scenes found in Game of Thrones.

Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC Two, said: “BBC2 has a great reputation for distinctive, surprising drama. I’m delighted we are doing The Last Kingdom, an epic piece from a highly regarded creative team.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller of Drama Commissioning, BBC, said: “I hope The Last Kingdom will expand BBC2’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.”

Cornwell was also responsible for the “Sharpe” novels that became a long-running television series of the same name starring Sean Bean.

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