The Last Kingdom, a brief review

I just finished watching episodes 1-6 of the BBC historical drama The Last Kingdom. I enjoyed the first few episodes but found myself increasingly unsettled as the eposides went by. Something is very ‘off’ about this story. The TV series is based on the books, The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, so any criticism of the story and script are going to be primarily with the author.

The Good

Great Britain has a fascinating history, and there was much I learnt from watching TLK. I’m much creative license has been taken, but it certainly has piqued my interest and encouraged me to find out more about the real history.

The production values are great, with the locations and sets being very believable. The cinematography is cleverly done, and the music matches the tempo and pathos of the scenes very well. The acting is mostly very good, with some standout performances. I particularly liked the character of King Alfred (played by David Dawson) and Viking Lord Ubba (played by Rune Temte).

With the copious violence, and occasional sex scene aside, I found it pretty thought provoking viewing.

The Bad

The violence is gratuitous and I found disturbing at times. The portrayal of women is not positive. The few female lead characters seem to be nags, pious busy bodies and mostly there for the amusement of the men.

Ulricht is a really unlikeable character. He’s a foolish, arrogant, petulant, man-baby. I hope this is just the story arc that ends up with him growing up and setting things right in the end, but I so wanted to punch him in the face by episode 6.

Ubba by contrast was the bad guy I grew to love, and was sorry to see him meet his inevitable demise.

The Ugly

Humanity always filters history through the lens of the present, and it is no different with TLK.

I couldn’t figure out what moral code the main character, Ulricht, lived by. On one hand he is angrily calling for ‘justice to be done!’ meanwhile he is picking and choosing what is right and wrong based on nothing more than what feels right for him at the time.

The constant mocking of Christianity I found really tiresome. There is zero recognition that western civilisation itself is deeply rooted in its Judeo-Christian heritage. It’s almost as if Christianity was some annoying baggage hindering progress, instead of the driving force behind Britain and Europe’s advance towards what became the pinnacle of human achievement and knowledge.

The pagan beliefs are portrayed through a very modern prism. There is no judgement in their belief system - you just do your best to observe all the right superstitions and pay your respects to the right gods and you’ll be fine - Valhallah awaits. Of course the reality of pagan belief is world of darkness and bondage: human sacrifice anyone?