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BBC America’s new series The Last Kingdom may be similar to Game of Thrones in its scope, but the comparisons end there.
“I’m a huge admirer of Game of Thrones, but I think it’s really a different genre,” said executive producer Gareth Neame (Downton Abbey) Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour. “That is a fantasy drama. This isn’t fantasy at all — there are no dragons in this show.”
Neame did admit to some similarities between his series, bowing late October, and the HBO drama. “What it has in common maybe is the action and the battles and the look of it, but the way we’ve approached this production is quite different,” he acknowledged, noting that Kingdom has much more of a documentary feel to it in that it uses a hand-held camera and has a contemporary score.
Lead actor Alexander Dreymon, best known for playing Luke Ramsey in American Horror Story: Coven, agreed. “It’s a lot less glossy and more gritty,” he said of the Thrones comparisons, adding: “You don’t want to fall in the trap of doing the same thing.”
In fact, Dreymon’s hairstylist had to scrap her original hairstyle for his character because it looked too much like Ragnar Lothbrok’s from Vikings, History’s large-scale historical drama. “We obviously couldn’t go there cause it had already been done,” the actor said.
Adapted from Bernard Cornwell‘s books “The Saxon Stories,” the eight-part drama tells the story of the birth of England. “It’s the true story of how the country came to be,” explained Neame. “The historical facts are correct — but the journey we go on is a fictional story that’s woven into that.”
That journey is the one of a young warrior and outsider, Uhtred (Dreymon), as he embarks on a mission to reclaim his birthright. After a group of Danes set his home ablaze and murder his surrogate family, Uhtred finds himself faced with a choice: be loyal to his country of birth or the people of his upbringing.
What drew Neame to the project was the chance to tell an origins story. “For audiences in the United States, England is thought of a place that has just always been there because it’s where the history is. But the idea that there was a time when it didn’t exist is interesting to me.”
In some ways, this project has proved more challenging than Neame’s previous historical fiction endeavor. “With Downton, there is living memory of etiquette and behavior — there’s photographs and it’s very, very well documented — whereas so little is known about this time,” he said, pointing out that there are no building or paintings even that exist from around 800 A.D. “So while they are both historical projects, you have to approach them in very different way.”
The Last Kingdom premieres Saturday, October 10 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.
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