Skip to main content

What Sarah Barnett Wants You To Know About 'The Last Kingdom’

BBC America will tap the popular medieval drama genre with The Oct. 10 debut of The Last Kingdom. The series, adapted from Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling The Saxon Stories series of books and produced by Downton Abbey’s Carnival Films, re-tells the history of King Alfred the Great and his desire to unite several kingdoms into what would eventually become England.

BBC America president and general manager Sarah Barnett says that The Last Kingdom has a distinct look and feel that sets itself apart from other shows in the genre such as HBO’s Emmy-winning Game Of Thrones and Fx's The Bastard Executioner.

Here’s what Barnett wants you to know about The Last Kingdom:

It’s not a copycat of other period dramas:  There have been many great period dramas made about early England, but just as Downton Abbey managed to show you something you thought you already knew in a new way that humanizes that time and place, the same exact thing happens here with The Last Kingdom. It’s set in the 9th century period that you think you may know. It’s set in the context of real history during a crazy time of brutality, and I think what this show does is provide a look that is surprising fresh and surprisingly modern.

It stays true to history: What’s attractive about The Last Kingdom is the approach that the show takes to maintain the integrity of the time and its basis in real history.  It features characters and relationships that are not at the mercy of the plot – you feel like you could know these people. I think quite often in this genre there’s a certain kind of thrilling spectacle but also a certain kind of pomposity in the characterization. What is arresting about The Last Kingdom is it’s not sentimental or indulgent, and these people speak to each other in a way that is shockingly direct and familiar to us in the 21st century. The relationship between Uhtred, the main character and Brida, who he falls in love with, is a relationship that is recognizable to any 21st century man or woman, and has a directness and freshness. It’s incredible engrossing against the backdrop of this incredibly brutal time.

It adheres to the BBC America brand: A BBC America drama has to feel original, fresh and take big swings in storytelling. When you take a look at Doctor Who, Orphan Black and now The Last Kingdom, you do see the quality that’s always going to be baked in the BBC America brand. Our shows have depth in writing but they are characterized by not taking themselves too seriously – there’s a certain kind of cheekiness or wit with Doctor Who and Orphan Black that you see in The Last Kingdom, despite a genre that is not characterized by cheeky wit. So I think there are some things that we are starting to realize that our fans are really love about us, and The Last Kingdom is absolutely within that wheelhouse.