As we return to the chaos and cruelty of ninth-century England, you could be forgiven for being confused. The swirl of plot information and new characters delivered in the first half-hour here risk blunting what should be – and was in the first series – an axe-sharp historical drama.
But the important thing is that we’re back with Uhtred, Bernard Cornwell’s likeable, long-haired warrior who, as part Anglo-Saxon and part Dane, balances on the faultline of his time. Having won a great victory for King Alfred, Uhtred now heads north to rescue his sister and, as a detour, help install a new king of Cumberland.
This series is often seen as a sort of own-brand Game of Thrones, with chunks of proper history. But for full value we really need lashings of the fighting, sex and intrigue it does best. At least with the return of Uhtred’s old foe, the kohl-eyed Kjartan the Cruel, we have a baddie worth his salt.
Comedian and talented ceramicist Johnny Vegas is the guest judge in this semi-final, much to the glee of the four remaining contestants.
His challenge is brisk and odd – to make a teapot in a minute. Kate Malone, who was Vegas’s degree course tutor, tells us that an example of this particular signature piece is in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection.
But this is just a jolly little interlude. The real meat of the penultimate week is the Big Make, the Biggest Make Ever, as it turns out – a toilet. Yes, the little gang must make a loo, they must decorate it and, crucially, they must plumb it in properly so it flushes without incident.
One semi-finalist wants to make a turtle shape so whoever’s sitting there “will see a turtle head peeping out from between their legs”. Er, lovely.
A teenage girl falls for a vampire in the first film to be adapted from Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling series of fantasy novels. Kristen Stewart is suitably enigmatic as the heroine, Bella, who’s been sent to a small town in Washington state to live with her dad (Billy Burke). There she struggles to fit in at school, until a mutual attraction to handsome Edward (played by British actor Robert Pattinson) blossoms into a relationship that’s fraught with danger.
Pattinson (Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films) does tend to ham it up with his James Dean pose, but his chemistry with Stewart more than makes amends. Although the dialogue is clunky at times, director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) makes the greyish gloom feel thoroughly exotic, and teenage audiences will no doubt forgive some overwrought moments in what is a charming tale.
If you’re a fan of mockumentaries like People Just Do Nothing or The Office – then This Country will undoubtedly be your bag. It follows the lives of cousins Kerry and Kurtan and their antics in the Cotswolds. Excruciatingly awkward and all the funnier for it.
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