Au­then­tic ad­ven­tures

Di­rec­tor Jon East tells us what’s in store as a his­tor­i­cal epic re­turns for a sec­ond se­ries

BBC History Magazine - - Tv & Radio -

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

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