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Netflix has another hit on its hands: The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell's series of novels about late-ninth-century England.

Launched in October 2015 by BBC America and BBC Two, it was later picked up by Netflix, which describes the series thus: "As Alfred the Great defends his kingdom from Norse invaders, Uhtred--born a Saxon but raised by Vikings--seeks to claim his ancestral birthright."

The Last Kingdom is a PG-13 Game of Thrones, except for its anchoring in the real history of England and the real genius of King Alfred, who turned back the Viking invaders and slowly assembled the pieces of what would become modern England. Winston Churchill devotes a good bit of the first volume of his four-volume A History of the English Speaking Peoples to Alfred and his son Edward and their wars and temporary truces with the treasure-and-power-minded and ruthless Danes.

Cornwell's fictional character of Uhtred (played by Alexander Dreymon) is an excellent vehicle for the narrative: A Saxon noble kidnapped by the Danes as a small boy and raised in their ferocious ways according to the warrior code of their Norse gods, who, by a series of events both plausible and rooted in actual battles and various treacheries of the era, rises to unexpected success on the English side.

The compelling Uhtred is primarily a warrior--a ferocious fighter of the "shield wall," a cunning brawler and easily given to mockery of the Catholic Church to which Alfred (David Dawson) is deeply committed.

The Catholic Church is everywhere in The Last Kingdom, fully on display in the omnipresent yet subtle and textured role it played in everyday life in the Christian England of the era. The irony of the entire series is that Alfred, the devout and brilliant king, is physically weak, commands less than half the population of the land he seeks to lead, and needs the near-barbarian Uhtred to repeatedly defend what's left of England and then to oversee its slow ingathering of power and territory.

Watch it for two reasons. First, it's great fun, and if there are kids in the room, you won't have to reach for the pause button every 15 minutes or so as happens when Game of Thrones goes fully fleshy--as it does in every episode.

Second, what might strike your imagination is that the Alfred of history is very much like the Republican Party of 2016: Enfeebled, back against the wall, out of options and a Supreme Court vacancy away from losing its cherished "rule of law," slowly yielding ground to an always-growing regulatory state at home and vastly ambitious opponents abroad.

So like Alfred enlisting Uhtred, the GOP of 2016 turned to the half-this-half-that brawler, sometimes Democrat, sometimes Republican from New York City. "He may be a pagan, sire, but he's our pagan" is more or less what Father Beocca (Ian Hart), the king's long-suffering counselor-confessor, is obliged to repeatedly remind Alfred, who is surrounded at his court by quite a few #NeverUnhtred skeptics.

In a providential coincidence, the show's Rotten Tomatoes rating of 87 percent is not far from Trump's approval numbers among Republicans. The latter group prefers ultimately, like Alfred, to win political battles rather than lose with prayers properly said.

The third season of The Last Kingdom got underway in November, just as President Donald Trump's did. Now the Vikings have got to figure out who to throw at "Uhtred son of Uhtred." Best not to send someone with a stave to a sword fight.

Editorial on 03/04/2019

Print Headline: Our pagan, sire

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Comments

  • WhododueDiligence
    March 4, 2019 at 10:48 a.m.

    "... what might strike your imagination is that the Alfred of history is very much like the Republican Party of 2016: Enfeebled, back against the wall, out of options and a Supreme Court vacancy away from losing its cherished "rule of law," slowly yielding ground to an always-growing regulatory state ..."
    *
    Wow, what a heavy load of hogwash. That poor enfeebled Republican Party with 17 presidential candidates but somehow out of options and somehow woefully victimized by regulations which protect that poor enfeebled party's drinking water and breathing air quality. And that poor enfeebled party wets its collective pants in fear of somehow losing its cherished rule of law despite the fact that its cherished rule of law is protected by the US Constitution. That poor enfeebled 2016 party is sooooooooooo much like King Arthur during his dark age years long before the Magna Carta.
    *
    Maybe you have to be a radio talk-show squawking head to make up imaginary poor enfeebled victim-squawk nonsense like that.

  • WhododueDiligence
    March 4, 2019 at 11:16 a.m.

    ... And then Hewitt's imagination goes haywire when he imagines bone-spurs Donald as Uhtred, the "ferocious fighter." I imagine Hewitt will propose a toast to dillydilly Donald.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    March 4, 2019 at 5:31 p.m.

    please read the book instead of watching the show.

  • WhododueDiligence
    March 4, 2019 at 7:22 p.m.

    Yes, Oboxer, reading the book is nearly always better than watching the show. That's true. Who other than Hugh after Hugh's review would watch the show?

  • WhododueDiligence
    March 4, 2019 at 8:05 p.m.

    Here's more hooey from Hugh: "In a providential coincidence, the show's Rotten Tomatoes rating of 87 percent is not far from Trump's approval rating among Republicans."
    As if Providence is smiling gently down in rapturous approval across these many centuries upon Republican Hugh's comparison of Uhtred the ferocious fighter (who's Donald the draft dodger according to Hugh's hooey) with the rating of Rotten Tomatoes.

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