selenak: (Uthred and Alfred)
More Last Kingdom thoughts, and a new icon which I made myself since I couldn't find one, apropos some rewatching after reading the early books and discussions with [personal profile] peasant:

Cut for spoilers )
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
Having now read three of the four books the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom are based on, I find my original suspicion that Bernard Cornwell novels benefit from adaptions into other media because these take you out of the main character's head justified, though not always quite in the way I assumed. Because the novels are narrated by an older Uthred looking back, his narrating self can sometimes point out things his younger self did not yet see or realise, for example, that he wronged his first wife Mildrith, or that he underestimated Alfred early on because a chronically sick non-warrior valueing learning and feeling guilty about sex could not possibly be a strong leader in his young eyes. Otoh, older, wiser Uthred narrating still doesn't change the fact most female characters come across as more dimensional and fleshed out in the tv adaption than they do in the novels (Brida and Mildrith in the first, Hild and Aelswith in the second season - Iseult, alas, is a cliché in both versions).

The tv show cut or compressed various characters and slimmed down events, and given that they do two books per season so far, that's not surprising. But even if they took a longer time, I think some of the changes and cuts were to the narrative's benefit. For example: Cornwell has to come up with some pretty convoluted circumstances and far-stretched plots to have a teenage Uthred who is still with the Danes secretly present when Prince (not yet King) Alfred confesses about his carnal lapses to Beocca. In the book, he needs to be because he's the narrator and neither Alfred nor Beocca would have told him about this. The tv show dispenses with said circumstances and just has the scene between Alfred and Beocca, without Uthred secretly listening in, because he doesn't need to be in order for the audience to get this information about the young Alfred.

Mind you, dispensing with the first two times Uthred meets Alfred and letting their first encounter not happen until after Ragnar the Elder's death creates one important difference between book and show relationship that's worth mentioning. Book Uthred lies to Alfred (and Beocca) these first two times and point blank spies on them for the Danes, so the later "why do you keep distrusting me?" indignation rings a little hollow in this regard. Show Uthred does no such thing, so Alfred is accordingly less justified in his lingering ambiguity.

Another cut that somewhat shifts perception: the first novel has Uthred participating in a few Danish raids led by Ragnar, including one on Aelswith's hometown (though she doesn't know he took part). Now, in the show we go from Uthred the child to adult Uthred directly and adult Uthred is solely seen at Ragnar's home, with the deaths of Ragnar & Co. impending, but given adult Uthred later is shown to be already a skilled fighter, it stands to reason he practiced these skills. But I suspect the show avoided showing Uthred fighting against Saxon civilians this early on deliberately. Both show and books have Uthred loving the Danes but staying with the Saxons post Ragnar's death because various circumstances (and then Alfred's machinations) make it impossible for him to do otherwise. Only the book, though, spells out that Uthred doesn't start to feel any kind of identification/emotional connection to the Saxons until he sees them winning a battle (until then, narrator Uthred says, he hadn't thought Danes could lose, which makes sense given that throughout Uthred's childhood and adolescence, they were winning), when before he regarded them as weak and didn't want to think of himself as belonging to them. Which makes sense given Uthred is raised in a warrior culture and is a young, arrogant adolescent at the time, but again, I suspect the tv version avoids spelling this out in order not to make him off putting early on when establishing the character.

Otoh, the scenes the tv show adds in the two seasons where Uthred isn't present all serve to flesh out the characters in question more and work to their benefit, whether it's Alfred, Hild, Aelswith or Beocca. The notable exception is Guthred in s2, whose additional scenes make him look worse, not better than the novel does. Possibly, too, because in the novel Guthred is described having an easy charm that makes Book!Uthred forgive him even the truly terrible thing Guthred does to Uthred, and the actor playing Guthred on the show doesn't have that at all, and instead comes across as nothing but fearful, easily influenced and weak. (And show!Uthred while coming to terms with him doesn't forgive him.) I have to say, lack of actorly charm aside, given that Guthred does something spoilery to Uthred ), I find the tv version more realistic.

The push-pull relationship between Uthred and Alfred is there in both versions, but in the tv show, it comes across as more central. As my local library has it, I also read "Death of Kings", the novel in which, Alfred dies, not without manipulating Uthred one last time into doing what he wants him to do, and Uthred's thoughts on the man later, summing him up, are Cornwell's prose at its best:

I stood beside Alfred's coffin and thought how life slipped by, and how, for nearly all my life, Alfred had been there like a great landmark. I had not liked him. I had struggled against him, despised him and admired him. I hated his religion and its cold disapproving gaze, its malevolence that cloaked itself in pretended kindness, and its allegiance to a god who would drain the joy from the world by naming it sin, but Alfred's religion had made him a good man and a good king.
And Alfred's joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandson and their children's children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him. He was my king and all that I now have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all started with Alfred, who hated me at times, loved me at times, and was generous with me. He was a gold-giver.


Last Yuletide I added a Last Kingdom request at the last minute because I'd seen it had been nominated, and accordingly it was short, but this Yuletide I think I'll also offer, and will request in more detail and more characters. While the other historical tv shows I consumed during the last year were entertaining in various degrees, this was the only one which was also good.
selenak: (Bayeux)
As if rl politics weren't infuriating and depressing enough, Netflix goes and cancels Sense 8. Boo. I might have critiqued various s2 elements recently, but that didn't mean I didn't enjoy the show overall, and I definitely want more of it.

On to shows still ongoing, with past seasons I marathoned in recent weeks.

I, Zombie, season 2: was good and did not have Veronica Mars's s2 problems. They even found an in-story reason for Blaine to be still around, and Max Rager as the season's main villain made for suspense and a satisfying finale. On to more spoilery developments. )

The Last Kingdom, season 2: covering two of Cornwell's novels in one season, I hear, which explains the sometimes breathless pace, but it worked for me. More spoilery musings ensue. ) I really hope we'll get another season of what has become an excellent ensemble show. That Netflix is the one to decide this now has me worried...
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
Dear Yuletide Writer,

thank you so much for writing a story for me! I’m greatly looking forward to it, and hope you’ll enjoy writing it. We share at least one fandom, and hopefully some of my ideas will be of interest to you.
General likes/dislikes: Generally, I’m fond of canon settings. By which I mean: I don’t want to read about the characters in a coffee shop AU, or a high school AU, or in a story where no one evolved beyond their pilot characterization and the plot went totally differently from there.

This isn’t an absolute demand. I’ve come across A U s which I have truly loved, and some had pretty cracky premises. So if you are truly inspired to write about, say, Lily Frankenstein’s adventures in space, fine, go for it. “If possible, canon era setting” is a guideline, no more.

On the other hand: no A/B/O, please. Can’t stand it. Also, no character bashing. By which I don’t mean characters can’t have negative opinions about other characters. But there is a difference between that and story intent. To choose a Black Sails example: Jack Rackham having no good things to say about Eleanor Guthrie post s3 would be in character and more than likely. Flint, otoh, passing judgment on Eleanor on one particular act given what he did to Mr. Gates would be hypocritical, and if the entire story is devoted to all the characters hating on Eleanor and Eleanor getting humiliated by the narrative, we’re definitely in bashing territory, and I want nothing to do with it.

Slash, het, bi, poly: I’m fine with it all, and you can write non-generic sex scenes, more power to you, I’m envious (I tend to go for the discreet cut between scenes not because I’m against explicit writing but because I’m not good at it), but I’d prefer it if the story consists of more than just an extended sex scene.

On to fandom specifics.

Penny Dreadful )

The Americans )

Black Sails )

The Last Kingdom )
selenak: (Bayeux)
Aka the miniseries based on Bernard Cornwell's novel of the same name, which is the first of to date nine (or so) novels set during and after the reign of Alfred the Great, centred around Cornwell's fictional hero Uthred. I'd read some of Cornwell's novels before, including one of the Uthred novels (though the one I read was set way later, after Alfred's death, featuring an aged Uthred and called The Empty Throne), and while I'm not exactly a fan, he's entertaining, he knows his stuff (his stuff being battlefields of all ages and homosocial bondings), and I was looking forward to the televised version which only recently finished broadcasting. (Somehow I still haven't watched any of the Sharpe movies, also based on a a series of novels by Cornwell, despite them starring Sean Bean.) Thanks to Netflix putting it up, I marathoned the eight episodes in recent days.

Caveat before review: as I said, I haven't read the actual novel it is based on, only one of the later ones, so my review can't judge how good or bad an adaption of the source material it is, only in terms of how it comes across as a (mini)series and as a historical series. Which is: mostly well. I mean, it does go for the "joyless Christians, fun pagans" cliché virtually all current historical tv and movies go for, but otoh there are enough sympathetic Christian characters around for it not to annoy. Also, no howlers like, say, the ones in Vikings (set just a generation earlier) where other than King Ekbert, no one in the Saxon kingdoms seems to have had any idea that the Romans ever existed. Oh, and in The Last Kingdom the term "Vikings" is used as to mean "raiders", not the people themselves, who are referred to as "Danes", which as far as I recall is correct.

Our hero Uthred is born Saxon, gets taken by the Danes during a a raid as a child, grows up a Dane and as an adult for various plot reasons ends up with the Saxons again, which allows the series to show both people as human beings, with if anything the initial emotional advantage given to the Danes. It also means the show gets to do the "in between cultures" trope which I enjoy, though more so if a character feels genuinely torn. (Whereas Uthred doesn't, really; he clearly sees the Danish way of life as the right and the Saxon/Christian way as the wrong one, it's just that plot reasons mean choosing to stay with the Danes never is quite an option for him.)

Female characters: here the change of medium, based on the Cornwell novels I've read, are to its advantage. For example, given that the Uthred novels are narrated in first person, I bet that he comes across as more in the right in the breaking of his first two important relationships with women than he does in the show, where both Brida (Uthred's childhood friend and first lover, who while originally Saxon unlike him chooses to stay with the Danes and rejects the Saxons entirely) and Mildrith (Uthred's first wife, a Saxon) come across as more so. They're also very different yet both sympathetic ladies. I especially appreciated this in the case of Mildrith, who I was afraid would be vilified or ridiculed by the narrative, or presented as passionless or hypocritical (she's a faithful Christian, after all), and none of this was the case. The third woman Uthred gets involved with in the course of the narrative, Iseult, is perhaps the one closest to a cliché (Celt - she's Welsh - with mystical powers, and if you think the name hints ever so subtly she won't get a happy ending, you think correctly), but Iseult also gets one of the few interactions between two female characters who aren't related to Uthred the show offers. And that introduces the character I recalled from the much later novel, Hild the badass nun, who is great. Also, points for the show for giving the one female character written otherwise almost relentlessly unsympathetically, Alfred's Queen Ealswyth, two scenes showing her humanity, one of them with Hild.

But really, anything based on a Bernard Cornwell novel won't live or die with its female characters. See above, re: what Bernard Cornwell's stuff is. The majority of the narrative is devoted to the hostile, friendly and in between relationships Uthred has with other men. Which covers not just the expected types (gruff mentor, jealous rival, honest brother), but also the more rare ones; as one reviewer puts it, there's a character who you think is going to be the Joffrey, but instead he's the Pete Campbell, and also comic relief. And of course at the heart of it is the tense relationship between Uthred and Alfred (still the King's younger brother when introduced but quickly becoming King of Wessex himself and hence the key to Uthred getting his paternal lands back...or so Uthred thinks at first, until he realises Alfred is far better at using him than he is at using Alfred), who refuses to fall solely into one type or the other (sometimes he's covering Magnificent Bastard grounds, sometimes Leader with a Vision, sometimes Unfair King), and is the show's second lead of sorts. I dimly recall reading an interview with Cornwell in which he said that when he first decided to write about the era he realised he couldn't make Alfred himself the pov character because the religiosity was too off putting for him. This turns out to be to the benefit of Alfred the character, because I bet if he had been the pov character he'd have been far less interesting, off-putting to postmodern readers/viewers qualities evened out and what not. Instead, he's richly ambiguous, and if the show should continue, I'll miss him come season 5 or thereabouts when he (and the narratively fruitful tension between Uthred and himself) is gone. Incidentally, he's played by David Dawson, and as a watcher of Vikings this made me concluded with amusement he does look like Athelstan's kid should.

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