An epic television drama featuring bloody battles and a feud over ancestral lands might sound familiar to fans of the hit series Game of Thrones. But The Last Kingdom, a new big budget BBC spectacular, is not a spin-off of the hugely popular US show, say its creators.
The series is instead a historically rooted drama about the ninth-century wars between the Anglo-Saxons and Viking invaders.
Based on Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling 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 figures 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.
Coming to BBC Two next year, the series is a collaboration between BBC America and Carnival Films, the award winning producers who turned ITV’s Downton Abbey into a global blockbuster. It will inevitably prompt comparisons with Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy phenomenon.
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The Last Kingdom promises “heroic deeds and epic battles” as well as 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 series promises a “thematic depth that embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity”. 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.
Gareth Neame, the award-winning executive producer, said: “Cornwell’s Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way. In the hands of screenwriter Stephen Butchard, we believe it will make original and engrossing television drama.”
Neame added: “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.”
Shooting begins in the autumn for the series, which will run for eight hour-long episodes. With eight Saxon stories novels 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 amassed record viewing figures.
Cornwell was also responsible for the “Sharpe” novels about a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. These became a long-running television series of the same name starring Sean Bean, who coincidentally also appeared in the first series of Game of Thrones.