sun 25/06/2017

The Last Kingdom - 'one of the very best things on television' | reviews, news & interviews

The Last Kingdom - 'one of the very best things on television'

The Last Kingdom - 'one of the very best things on television'

Karma comes to Kjartan the Cruel in the BBC Two blockbuster

Instinctive tactical genius: Uhtred, son of Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon)

The first series of The Last Kingdom in 2015 kicked off with a blockbuster episode which managed to encompass savage violence, dynastic rivalry and a speedy tour of the state of Britain in the ninth century, while allowing the central protagonist, Uhtred, to grow from boy to man. It was a virtuoso feat, and one which the opener of series two couldn’t quite repeat.

But have no fear. The new series has been steadily building momentum, and with this explosive fourth episode it once again looked like one of the very best things on television. It was here that Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), the Saxon-born heir to the kingdom of Bebbanburg but raised by a Danish family, and his adoptive brother Ragnar the Younger (Tobias Santelmann, pictured below), finally came to pay their respects to Kjartan the Cruel, who many years ago murdered their parents in hideous, fiery fashion. It’s a theme which has been simmering just beneath the surface ever since the show began, and its resolution came in an expertly-crafted episode which combined all the show’s strengths – powerful storytelling, forceful characterisation, and pulsating action sequences which would make many a Hollywood blockbuster look anaemic and listless.

The Last KingdomIt also deftly knitted the tale of long-delayed vengeance into the overall political jigsaw. Uhtred, having knifed the loathsome Abbot Eadred on hallowed ground, has been forced to reaffirm his allegiance to King Alfred (David Dawson, pictured below). Alfred, though pale and wan and suffering from poor digestion, is as tough as old boots, and has an impressive gift for keeping focused on the big picture, which is creating a unified English kingdom. Uhtred, a natural-born warrior and instinctive tactical genius, has been responsible for most of Alfred’s battlefield victories, but has to accept that the king has vastly superior political skills. Nonetheless, sent north by Alfred to help out the weak and worthless King Guthred – who earlier sold Uhtred into morale-sapping slavery, as we saw last week – Uhtred was able to combine his official mission with a side-trip to Kjartan’s fortress at Dunholm (that’s Durham).

The amount of feverish activity crammed into an hour-long episode was head-spinning. First Uhtred had to survive a ferocious brawl with Sigefrid the Dane in York, the outcome of which was looking a bit dicey until Uhtred managed to lop off his opponent’s hand with the swirl of a broadsword. Then, Uhtred having managed to stifle his instinct to disembowel the contemptible Guthred, it was all speed for Dunholm, where Uhtred and Ragnar put into action an expertly-wrought two-pronged assault to unpick Dunholm’s supposed impregnability.

The Last KingdomThus, while Uhtred led a raiding team to infiltrate the castle by a back door, Ragnar distracted the enemy by mounting suicidal frontal attacks behind a wall of shields. The casualties from arrows were beginning to mount alarmingly by the time Uhtred’s squad got the front gate open, but after that the only question was how long could Kjartan (Alexandre Willaume) last. The clash of opposing forces in the castle courtyard was crunchingly physical enough to make you experience psychosomatic broken limbs and sword cuts, while the actors looked so fired up you began to fear the blood-lust might even be real.

Ragnar had been determined to do the job on Kjartan personally, and, apart from a couple of alarming stumbles, he didn’t let us down. Kjartan wasn’t merely killed, he was hacked into what would have resembled a plate of Whiskas had the camera not pulled back tactfully at the appropriate moment. But hell, he deserved it, not least for his deplorable treatment of Ragnar’s sister Thyra (Julia Bache-Wiig), who had been held for years as captive slave and whore. She at least had the satisfaction of unleashing her pack of hungry dogs on her chief tormentor, Sven. But, as Uhtred reminds us every week, “Destiny is all”. He’s determined to hammer his own destiny into the shape that pleases him most.

@SweetingAdam

Uhtred, a natural-born warrior, has to accept that Alfred has superior political skills

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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