Wednesday, 23 July 2014

BBC announce major new Saxon drama

“BBC Two announces new drama series, The Last Kingdom

A Carnival Films and BBC America co-production for BBC Two, The Last Kingdom is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books by BAFTA nominated and RTS award-winning writer Stephen Butchard. 

BBC Two, BBC America and Carnival Films, the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning producers, today announced that production would begin in the autumn on The Last Kingdom, a new historical 8x60' drama series.”

It seems that the Saxons are at last to get a chance at popular culture. Without doubt the Vikings have been the dominant representation of early medieval peoples, giving us all kinds of stereotypical behaviours such as rape and pillage, clothing like helmets with wings or horns attached, and the image of a burly hair-suit barbarian.

Although the Saxon peoples were related in many ways to the Norse peoples, not least in culture, they have always been somewhat in the shadows of their more famous cousins. I have no doubt that in part this is a ramification of the successful invasion of Britain by the Danes, the period that Bernard Cornwell’s books cover, because to people who know very little about the early medieval age that is what the Vikings did; they conquered the Saxons.

It is true, they did destroy Saxon kingdoms like Northumbria, but it is also true that the Saxons ultimately went on to destroy completely the Viking kingdoms set up by the Danes. In fact the Saxons went to unite the whole of England and weld it into one of the great states of the times. They developed a robust culture governed by written law and in which the fledgling Christian Church enjoyed a rapid growth evinced by the number of churches being built throughout the island. At one point the Saxons were far ahead of the continent in building churches in stone.

Recent discoveries like the Staffordshire Horde have revealed a beauty to Saxon art and craftsmanship that has captured the imagination of the world. The popular view of the Saxons as a beaten people who were illiterate, mud-stained peasants, is being challenged and new representations of their social and cultural developments revealed. The Saxons are worthy of our respect.
The new drama series announced by the BBC represents an excellent opportunity for the Saxons to be recast in an image closer to what they are known to be for those who have taken the time to study them. Yes, it will show the destruction of Saxon kingdoms before the Viking onslaught, but hopefully viewers will come away with a more positive impression of the Saxons as a whole. Their civilisation lasted for over 500 years until the time of the Normans and even then it was not entirely eclipsed, it simple adapted to a new form, absorbed the foreign culture and became something new and even more robust in the process, giving rise to the modern British society of today.

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