The BBC has commissioned Downton Abbey producers Carnival to make an eight-part drama based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories books.
Production will begin in the autumn on the series which is inspired by the eight novels from the collection of Anglo Saxon historical fiction by Cornwell, the creator of 1990s TV favourite Sharpe.
Set in the year 872, when England has been left divided and ravaged by Viking invasion, The Last Kingdom focuses on Saxon nobleman Uhtred who has been raised a Viking by the conquerors but faces a dilemma over his Saxon heritage.
The drama has not yet been cast and while the producers are at pains to play down any similarities, The Last Kingdom is almost certain to draw comparisons with the HBO drama Game of Thrones which focuses on a similar world of kingly intrigue, albeit with a fantasy element.
The BBC said The Last Kingdom will be “full of heroic deeds and epic battles but with a thematic depth that embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity”.
But Carnival managing director Gareth Neame said: “This is not Game of Thrones – brilliant though that show is, ours is a historical drama based on the real events around the time of King Alfred the Great and the foundation of England. How England was once a group of separate little Kingdoms and how its inhabitants the Anglo-Saxons forced out their Viking invaders and came together for the first time as a single entity called England.”
Neame also had praise for the scriptwriter, Stephen Butchard, whose most recent work includes the critically-acclaimed BBC1 drama about the murders of five young women in Ipswich in 2006.
“Cornwell’s Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way. In the hands of Stephen Butchard we believe it will make original and engrossing television drama. In part the epic quest of our hero Uhtred, it is also a fascinating re-telling of the tale of King Alfred the Great and how he united the many separate kingdoms on this island into what would become England.”
Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s controller of drama commissioning, added: “I hope The Last Kingdom will expand BBC2’s distinctive portfolio of drama. It’s an epic narrative with an extraordinary creative team. It will feel like nothing else on television, with all of the scale and intrigue of the best fantasy stories but the reality of fact.”
Sharpe, which starred Sean Bean as Napoleonic soldier Richard Sharpe ran on ITV from 1993 to 1997.