The Last Kingdom, the last episode

WARNING: Discusses aspects of the plot, so don’t continue if you haven’t seen the final episode.

Last night I sat down and watched the final episode of The Last Kingdom.

Has my opinion changed from when I wrote about the television series a few weeks ago?

First I should say that I enjoyed the series. I would have probably enjoyed it more if I hadn’t already read the books, but most of the time I sat back and enjoyed the action. The acting was good and there was enough humour to counteract the violence. Money had been spent, so that the final battle of Ethandun was suitably spectacular.

Pale Horseman cover

The later half of the series was based on the second book by Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman. It is some time since I read it – I see it was published in 2005 – so ten years ago. I had to dash off to the library to borrow a copy. It was interesting reading the book and watching the programme in tandem. I have leant a lot about merging characters and the problems that might cause.

A good example was the fight between Uhtred and Leofric. I was confused about it, why had Leofric turned against Uhtred? It just didn’t ring true. A good cliff hanger and you think – Oh they’ve got a plan to get out of it next week. No, they fought, were interrupted by the Danish attack and rode off best of friends.

When I read the book, I understood what had been done. Uhtred had to fight Steapa Snotor, henchman of Odda the Younger. This wonderfully named warrior (no, Snotor isn’t what you think, it means “the wise” – because the character is very stupid!) has been cut from the TV version of the story altogether. Therefore:

On the journey to meet Odda the Younger they stop at Uhtred’s Hall – not Steapa’s village which has been burnt and makes him angry.

When they do meet Odda the Younger, it made sense in the book that Odda would tell Steapa to continue the fight, to kill Uhtred, but he turns and kills his former master. In the filmed version it is obvious that Leofric wouldn’t kill his friend, so Odda the Elder has to kill his own son.

Another change  is that for this journey in the book, Alfred stays behind, as does Iseult. Uhtred is told she will be killed if he doesn’t return, which puts Uhtred under pressure.

So, why is Alfred creeping around in the background in disguise? Because they have merged this scene with another – a trip to the Danish camp at Chippenham. In the book Alfred pretends to be a harpist to spy on the Danes and Uhtred has to rescue him, along with Aethelwold and a raped nun (Hild – another two characters merged into one.) This, in its turn, is based on the original story of Alfred singing for Guthrum and the Danes.

The more I think about it, the more I realise the amount of effort that has been put in to tell the same story (much of the dialogue is identical) while slimming down the cast and venues. It is something to think about in my own book. Should I consider merging several characters into one? Or shall I leave that to the script writers when they film it? Perhaps the market for Anglo-Saxon television series has now closed?

Returning to the final episode. Leofric is now dead. What will happen to Steapa? This character appears in the later books.

Over the final scene, where they ride off into the sunset (a bit of a cliché, but it’s what you expect) we were told that the series will continue. I look forward to it.

But, who was riding into the future?

Uhtred, obviously.
I think I have got used to him, now he has got a bit rougher round the edges. In fact, while reading The Pale Horseman my vision of him swung between Sean Bean and Alexander Dreymon.

Hild.
Not so obvious from the TV version (or the book) but she is a main character later on. And Uhtred needs a girl to hump!

Who was the third?
It looked like the boy who appeared in the final episode.
According to the cast list he is called Halig – not a name that appears in the books (as far as I know). I think I heard it as Pyrlig and thought “Father Pyrlig has changed a lot!”.Warriors of the Storm cover

If you want to find out about Father Pyrlig who, according to the book, was at the battle (I suspect Beocca must have been merged with that character) why not read the book(s)?

 

There are now nine in the series. In the most recent, Warriors of the Storm, published only a few months ago. Uhtred is a grandfather (perhaps there’s hope for Sean Bean yet.) and Brida reappears. I’ll say no more.

 

Except… Please, in the next series, give them the right shields and sort out the clothes.

The Last Kingdom, Book v Television

I have now watched the first four episodes of the BBC2 series of The Last Kingdom. Halfway through the series and it’s about time to voice my opinion. How does it compare with the books by Bernard Cornwell?

I started reading the Sharpe novels long before they were televised. I knew what Richard Sharpe looked like – he was tall and dark.
Then he appeared on TV in the shape of Sean Bean – this was not right. But after a while I got used to him, I saw the character in that form in the later books.

Sean Bean. Put him in a saxon tunic, change the sword and he’s Uhtred

Now, exciting as Mr Cornwell’s books are, the same characters turn up with different names. In the Grail Quest series, Thomas of Hookton is Sharpe with a bow. When Uhtred appeared in The Last Kingdon, the first of The Warrior Chronicles, he was Sharpe with a sword – and looked like Sean Bean! When I first heard that the book was to be made into a TV series I have been looking forward to it. I realise that Uhtred would be played by a different actor – Sean Bean is too old now (at least for the young Uhtred) and has become known as a character in another, slightly similar, series.

When Alexander Dreymon appeared, he was all wrong. Too dark, too pretty and as for that silly goatee beard and moustache, words fail me.

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he#ll have your eye out

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he’ll have your eye out.

One of the most distinctive characters in the books was Father Beocca – very ugly, with red hair, a squint, palsied hand and a club foot. Couldn’t they have given Ian Hart a limp in the TV version? I will probably get used to him, but he’s not “my” Father Beocca”.

That brings me on to the costumes. What on earth are they wearing? What is that strange tunic with the toggles on the shoulder. Once I spotted it on Beocca, it was everywhere. King Alfred’s dressing gown (well it looks like a dressing gown!) Oda, senior & junior, even Uhtred’s father. All slightly different. There are a couple of monks that appeared in several scenes – I am waiting for them to be joined by Rasputin. Are the costumes based on Russian jackets? Chinese? All I know is that they are not Saxon. Do the producers think we won’t be able to tell one character for another unless they are all dressed differently? Unfortunately that is probably true.

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

I don’t think I have seen one genuine Saxon tunic and as for winingas (leg windings – described here as “almost ubiquitous on manuscript depictions of men during the Anglo-Saxon period”) not a sign.

Then there is the equipment. I am waiting for the moment when Uhtred turns round suddenly and knocks someone out with that lump of amber on the end.
And the shields. I suppose they decided no-one would be able to tell the Danes from the Anglo-Saxons if they all had the same round shields (Hint – that’s why they painted them with different designs.). The unwieldy rectangular shields, described somewhere as redundant picnic tables, must have been left lying around by the Romans when they left 400 years earlier – together with instructions for the testudo or tortoise formation.

They can’t even get the basic facts right. In the fourth instalment, Uhtred is given some land. Wife and debt come attached – I’m OK with that. But that now makes him a Thegn, not an Ealdorman.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. After all the whole point of a book, or a film, is the story. The original books were (are) exciting and entertaining. The TV series has, thank goodness, stuck fairly close to them. By the end of the series I will probably come around and enjoy watching it.

After all I watched The Tudors for the pleasure of shouting at the screen
“He didn’t look like that.”
“She wouldn’t have done that.”
or “that didn’t happen there, and where did that wisteria come from?” or was that Wolf Hall?