The Last Kingdom, BBC – first watch: Game of Thrones fans will find plenty to enjoy

Uhtred's is a story of romance, intrigue, warfare and the search for identity

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The Independent Culture

And it came to pass that the warring houses of Westeros ceased their bloody feuds as word spread of an even more deadly threat from a land called W1A.

The BBC has invested £10m in The Last Kingdom, an incursion into the blood-and-guts medieval drama genre which has proved such a profitable venture for HBO, producers of the all-conquering Game Of Thrones.

With ITV about to launch its big budget take on Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, the BBC has marshalled its resources, hiring Carnival, producers of Downton Abbey, to bring an eight-part adaptation of author Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories to the screen.

Boosted by funding from BBC America, the hook for the BBC2 drama is its mingling of fictional characters with real historical events, in an attempt to tell the story of the creation of England as a unitary state.

Set in 872, the series opens with the great Kingdom of Wessex standing firm as the other kingdoms of what we now know as England fall to the invading Viking hordes.

A story of courage, romance, intrigue, warfare and the search for identity, our hero is Uhtred, the son of a Saxon nobleman who is captured by Vikings after his father is slain during a massacre and is brought up with divided loyalties, in a Danish household.


Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) and Brida (Emily Cox) in 'The Last Kingdom'

Uhtred's destiny is to provide the brawn for the more cerebral Alfred The Great's mission to bring the squabbling Kingdoms of England together.

The producers argue that the business of Alfred and the cakes has overshadowed his contribution and left British schoolchildren largely ignorant of a vital strand in the national narrative.

Yet it's unlikely that The Last a Kingdom will be rushed on to the GCSE syllabus. "Danes!" exclaims Matthew Macfadyen, the senior Lord Uhtred, spotting unwelcome arrivals on the Northumbrian beach in the opening scene. "Like Devils' turds."

The Danes are soulless pagans, the proto-English claim.

Yet this is an epic production designed for international sales, with a multi-national cast including Blade Runner star Rutger Hauer and the Vikings, it turns out, are a deal more likeable than the English, whose number includes weak-minded traitors and sell-outs.

Uhtred, played by German-born actor Alexander Dreymon, is brought up among his new Viking overlords as a Saxon pet at a settlement in Leeds, which appears to be thriving in the ninth century.

The opening episode suggests that whilst we might want the English to win, it's a lot more fun being a tattooed, Metallica-goateed Viking.

Their victory over the Northumbriands is celebrated with a bacchanal that looks more like a Led Zeppelin after-party.

Game of Thrones fans will be satisfied by some suitably bone-crunching battle scenes as swords splinter flesh with a satisfying crunch.

Macfadyen is filleted in a particularly imaginative manner.

However for all the sweeping battles scenes featuring 200 extras, The Last Kingdom, shot in Hungary, Denmark and Wales, feels a little tame next to Game of Thrones.




The producers say they were not able to faithfully replicate all of the gore in Cornwell's novels.

Uhtred's coming of age is signalled by the actor's emergence from a dip in the water, his pecs glistening, a shirtless beefcake scene now mandatory for BBC dramas.

Yet the explicit nude scenes familiar from the cable show are lacking in the BBC venture. The sex scene between Uhtred and his beloved Brida (Emily Cox), a feisty feminist fighter, is more of a fully-clothed dry hump.

There'll be more politicking and history as the series develops with Alfred only being introduced in episode two.

But whilst Westeros regroups for its next round of slaying, fans will find much to enjoy in the BBC's leap on to the fantasy drama terrain.

The Last Kingdom will start on BBC2 in October