Director Jon East tells us what’s in store as a historical epic returns for a second series
The Last Kingdom TV BBC Two, scheduled for March
Few television shows are constructed on such a grand scale as The Last Kingdom. Based on Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling novels, this is a historical drama in which Alfred’s efforts to unite England’s kingdoms are front and centre. Surely, it must be daunting to work on a show filled with set-piece battles?
Not according to one of its directors, Jon East. “From the inside, the concerns are still the same [as with smaller projects and scenes],” he says. “You may have 400–500 extras in the background engaged in some enormous conflict, but really you’re dealing with two or three central characters whose fate you’re concerned about.”
As fans of the books and the first series will know, this usually means two characters in particular: the devoutly Christian, slightly nerdish Alfred (David Dawson) and the hot-headed warrior Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), a Saxon noble raised by pagan Danes. Yet it would be a mistake to see the two as diametrically opposed. Rather, they’re both conflicted, restless figures.
Alfred, for instance, for all that he projects a chilly asceticism, has “an eye for a pretty servant girl”, while his religion doesn’t stop him being a ruthless pragmatist when it comes to consolidating power. “He’s not above having people executed or assassinated if he feels that ultimately their deaths would pave the way to a united England with a Christian culture,” says East.
Not that Uhtred is too interested in Alfred’s grand schemes. Instead, the new series, which picks up in 878, finds him determined to recover his ancestral home from his uncle, before, inevitably and inexorably, finding himself “enmeshed in [Alfred’s] designs”.
There’s a strong element of escapism about the way the series tries to take viewers into the Anglo-Saxon world. But, says East, it’s important to realise this sense of adventure rests on the way the team strives for authenticity.
“We try to get it right historically: costumes, behavioural patterns, social interactions, sexual encounters, everything really. Having that behind the creative decisions you make creates a landscape into which the audience can really feel transported.”
“We try to get it right historically: costumes, behavioural patterns, social interactions and sexual encounters”
Alexander Dreymon and Eva Birthistle star as Uhtred and Hild in series two of The Last Kingdom