Based on a historical fiction book series by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom is set in ninth-century England. At the center of the story is Uhtred, a Saxon who was captured as a boy and raised into a man by Danish invaders. Amid waves of violence, revenge and intrigue, Uhtred’s loyalties are tested on his quest to reclaim his birthright. The journey will lead him to join King Alfred in preserving the lone remaining English kingdom from Danish conquest.
“The historical events and some of the characters are completely true,” says executive producer Gareth Neame (Downton Abbey). “The historical facts are correct, but the journey that we go on is a fictional story that’s interwoven with that.”
The series uses handheld cameras and natural light to transport viewers into the scenes. “It forces the audience right into the center of the action, whether that be on the battlefield and feeling the sweat and fear of soldiers about to go into war, or whether that’s in the intimacy of a bedchamber, eavesdropping on lovers or conspirators plotting the downfall of a king,” says David Dawson, who plays Alfred.
The Last Kingdom was largely filmed in Hungary, and the rugged backdrops shift rapidly from green and lush to cold and gray. Alexander Dreymon (American Horror Story: Coven), who stars as Uhtred, says the changing scenery and seasons befit the story but weren’t always the most pleasant to shoot in. “Thank God in winter we had these big furs and leather and that kept us relatively warm,” Dreymon says. “But then summer came along, and we were still wearing the same costumes. It was over 110 degrees in the shade. It was hardcore.”
The action scenes were just as hardcore, as Dreymon recalls filming a fight with Uhtred vs. an ax-wielding stunt double who managed to destroy all of Uhtred’s plastic prop shields. “We had to start using hard plywood shields, which were even heavier with melted iron cast rims around them. And he got through all of them,” Dreymon says. “So for every take, as soon as we started, I literally felt the adrenaline pumping. I was really scared.”
The Last Kingdom premieres on BBC America Saturday, Oct. 10, at 10pm ET/PT. Viewers won’t have to wait to see Episode 2, as it will be available on BBC America On Demand Oct. 10 following the first episode on BBC America.
Photo: Credit: Joss Barratt ©Carnival Film & Television Ltd