The BBC’s historical drama The Last Kingdom caused a bit of a stir last week after it killed about half its cast within its first episode, comprehensively out Game of Thrones-ing Game of Thrones as it offed various members of young Uhtred’s (Alexander Dreymon) family.
The deaths were even more shocking considering the fact that two of those killed – Ripper Street/Pride and Prejudice star Matthew Macfayden’s Uhtred senior and Blade Runner icon Rutger Hauer’s Ravn – were just about the only recognisable faces in the largely unknown cast of international actors. Still, we thought, that’s just a bit of a shock tactic for the first week – they won’t keep going with that idea.
Rutger Hauer as Ravn in The Last Kingdom
Enter film actor Jason Flemyng, who this week played the unfortunate King Edmund of East Anglia only to meet with a similarly sticky end at the hands of the Danes after they conquered his kingdom. Famous faces can’t catch a break in this show.
Considering Flemyng has a pretty respectable run of parts in films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, X-Men: First Class and Hanna he might have expected to have a pretty weighty role in The Last Kingdom but nope – less than an hour into his first episode and he’s toast, just like Macfadyen and Hauer.
Jason Flemyng as King Edmund in The Last Kingdom
It’s almost an inversion of the problem old TV murder mysteries like Miss Marple used to have, where the most famous guest star was inevitably the murderer because they could show off their evil acting chops. In this case, however, the famous person is inevitably some sort of victim who only gets to show off their gurgling with death acting chops.
So why are these well-known actors being relegated to short, bloody cameos? It’s hard to say for sure – perhaps it’s a way of establishing the show’s identity with well-known faces while most of the main characters are relatively unknown in the UK, including lead Alexander Dreymon. Or maybe it’s pulling in the bigger names for small but crucial parts to make a quick impact, while not having to spend too much on regular fees for established stars (thus saving money for their presumably expensive historical set and costume budget).
Matthew Macfadyen As Lord Uhtred senior in The Last Kingdom
Or maybe it’s all a coincidence, and we’ve just spent too long thinking about it. Either way, we’d advise not getting attached to any actors with one or more Bafta nominations who pop up in Wessex in the future…
The Last Kingdom returns to BBC2 next Thursday