The Last Kingdom
Rating: 5 out of 10
Rating: 5 out of 10
In A Nutshell
I was heavily drawn to this show due to my love of the History Channel's "Vikings" show which we've had 3 seasons of thus far, and returns for a fourth soon. Can the BBC match the blood, violence and atmosphere of that show?
Yup, for the most part they have. CGI is used to good effect, without looking too ridiculous. Costumes and scenery are absolutely top-notch; equal to Game of Thrones and Vikings. The violence is slightly toned down though, with battles not getting too gruesome and any true sex, nudity or blood kept to a minimum in episode one, stopping just short of getting too gruesome.
The opening episode is all about setting the scene and story for the next seven episodes, and thus it skips along at such a pace to cover almost 30 years in 58 minutes. This chronological sprint only barely manages to work in this episode, before it really goes a little pear shaped in the last five minutes.
So, the show starts with young Uhtred at some community near York witnessing the Vikings coming ashore just down the coast. Everyone pegs it back to their wooden fortress and Lord Uhtred (his dad) sending some spies to keep a lookout but not to confront the Vikings. Of course, you just knew that the fact the Uhtred Senior made that implicit remark would mean it'll go wrong. Indeed, back came the spy in head form, when the vikings deliver what's left of him to the front gates of the fortress and leave. They are like a really bad courier with the way they just discard the head. Shaken, Uhtred Senior decides to take an army of 30 men or so (seems to be much more later strangely) and makes Uhtred Junior the new Lord in waiting of their community. Seems the spy was his older son. Uhtred junior is dismayed when later he discovers his dad and men have left without him and goes after them on his own in a rather comical manner, grabbing armour and sword, and a horse. As his dad's army get cornered and massacred by the vikings in a rather deadly assault (which goes on for five minutes but it feels like we don't see a lot of), Uhtred junior arrives too late. Somehow though, he's got behind enemy lines and a clear charge on the viking leader, Earl Ragnor (yes, probably the same one as in the other TV series). Ragnor senior (as he has a son of same name) mocks Uhtred junior but takes him prisoner, along with a few other women and men. In a viking hall nearby (that was created quickly!) they torture and do various other things to the prisoners which we also don't see much of. Uhtred junior instead is looked after by a blind elder viking.
Skip a few weeks and we have Uhtred the boy playing with other children, which goes a little bad when one of the boys assaults one of the girls. Ragnor senior isn't happy about this, banishes that family from his land, and takes out one of the boy's eyes! Eeek. Ragnor senior really starts to grow fond of Uhtred the boy, who isn't really bothered about being with the vikings as there wasn't much love back home for him from his dad and his mum, who it seems wasn't really his mum. Don't know. Didn't get much explanation there. Anyhow, the father of the boy now with one eye goes back to Uhtred's wooden fortress home and tells Uhtred's uncle that his nephew is alive and could be ransomed for. We then get a ransom situation in the forest with the current Lord trying to buy back Uhtred. A priest who came to the ransom quietly warns Uhtred not to return and that his uncle would only kill him in order to rule the land. As the ransom is going nowhere due to a mismatch in price, for some reason, Ragnor Senior buys Uhtred instead from the other Viking, Ubba, whom he had a 50% share of the boy with. The ransom is over and Ragnor declares Uhtred as much of a son as his own son, Ragnor Junior. ooookkkkkkk. Sort of "get that" but the way it's done during the ransom is just odd.
Skip twenty odd years now and we have a 20-something Uhtred and another young lady who was a former prisoner of the vikings, Brida, getting all loved up, whilst living with Ragnor and his gang. But, as they are recovering from some sex in the woods (which we don't see), they just so happen to see the one-eyed boy's father and the boy himself, now a young man of course, heading for Ragnor senior's hall. They quietly trap Ragnor in the hall and set fire to it, killing everyone that tried to escape. It's quite a dramatic fire indeed. Ragnor himself escapes at the end in a ball of fire and fights his attackers until he succumbs to the flames. The one-eyed man has taken only one prisoner from Ragnor's Hall, the same girl he assaulted as a child.
Uhtred gains some sort of revenge by sneaking into the wreckage of the hall and murdering (quietly) one of the people he recognises as a traitor and collaborator with his Uncle back home. Don't quite get the connection, but let's face it, it matters not really. Ragnor's attackers try but fail to find Ragnor's gold, but alas Uhtred and Brida know where it is and make off with it. BUT, not before they decide what to do next. Despite being initially abducted by the vikings, having no love for his real family, enjoying his time with Ragnor senior and wanting revenge on Ragnor's attackers, Uhtred declares that he's going home to reclaim what's his. Yeah, I don't quite get that myself. I sort of understand it but it's very weakly explained why he decided on this emotional turn. Anyhow, as that's essentially supposedly the outline of the whole series, it's no surprise he decides this, but given he's been treated well by the Vikings, it's hard to fathom why he would now be heading home. Possibly I've missed something here.
What I liked
Great scenery, atmosphere, costumes and use of CGI. As good as any top-quality show.
Battles; well, we did have one for a few minutes, and it was well produced as a display of tactics and maneuvers but far too brief.
Vikings are a good laugh, with their customs and behaviour. The English in comparison really do feel lightweight and rather brain dead.
What I Didn't Like
Episode skips along at times in terms of time. There's the obvious 20 odd year skip, and less so obvious smaller skipping of time. It mostly works but still doesn't feel all that natural.
Doesn't feel right with everyone communicating in English and not sounding even slightly like it's ye olde English.
Lovely costumes but some look all too rather clean and tidy at times.
There's some really basic and dull conversations in this episode and some rather bizarre changes of emotional pace, from young Uhtred laughing one moment when the Vikings were on their way. Young Uhtred was highly difficult to work out exactly how he felt about anything, saying he didn't like his dad one moment and then looking sad the next. His Uncle is even more odd to work out.
Rather basic storytelling.
|It's not hard to see why "we" lost battles when we look like we're wearing fancy dress costumes.|
|... And so do we. This comedy moment, in all the wrong ways, just sums up sums up some of weak storytelling in this episode.|
|Uhtred, the now grown up one, returns home with Ragnor's head to show his Uncle. Doesn't look too burnt does Ragnor?|
It's an ok start. Big in scenery, atmosphere and costumes, but weak in storytelling and any truly engaging characters.
I'll forgive the skipping of time chronologically as this is supposedly setting the scene for the rest of the show. I can't forgive the rather weak dialogues and gravity behind all the non-Viking characters.
Uhtred's decision making at the end was rather hard to completely fathom out but I hope for more clarity in episode two and possible a clearer idea of if he's planning to stay Viking or English.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (OK - average with hardly any memorable bits)