(director: Ed Bazalgette; screenwriters: Martha Hillier/from the novel by Bernard Cornwell; cinematographer: Luke Bryant; editor: Adam Green; music: Danny Saul/John Lunn/Eivor Palsdottir; cast: Alexander Dreymon (Uhtred), Mark Rowley (Finan), Arnas Fedaravicius (Sihtric), Agnes Born (Astrid), Harry Gilby (Aethelstan), Cavan Clerkin (Pyrlig), James Northcote (Aldhelm), Laurie Davidson (Ingilmundr), Elaine Cassidy (Queen Eadgifu), Ewan Horrocks (Aelfweard), Pekka Strang (Anlaf); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Nigel Marchant/Mat Chaplin/Gareh Neame; Netflix; 2023-UK)

“A gripping epic history drama on England is set in the turbulent days of the 10th century.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gripping epic history drama on England is set in the turbulent days of the 10th century, just before the Norman invasion and before England was called England. It’s assuredly directed by Ed Bazalgette (“Hannibal”/”Class”) and written by Martha Hillier from the “Saxon Tales” novels by Bernard Cornwell. It’s a standalone movie on the Netflix’s British-made TV series that has played in the UK for five years from 2015 and 2022.

The story follows the film’s fictitious good guy hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon) and his comrades, who move across a fractured kingdom in the hopes of uniting England in the aftermath of his father’s death, King Edward. Uhtred is aware of the haunting prophecy from a seer who is always right, who is the wife of his friend, that says “Seven kings must die.” Thereby the country will be united under the eight king.

The adventure story proceeds with numerous betrayals, stabbings and assorted treacheries.

Aethelstan (Harry Gilby), the youngest son of King Edward, attempts to forge a united England while seven kings form an alliance with the dastardly Danish warrior Anlaf (Pekka Strang, the Finnish-Swedish actor) in opposition. Thereby Uhtred must convince Aethelstan that his untrustworthy adviser Ingilmundr (Laurie Davidson), a recent convert to Christianity, has betrayed his trust.

We learn Uhtred was born a Saxon, but raised a Dane after his family was wiped out in war and his dad killed by the pagan Viking conquerors who would thereby raise him. 

Most of the country was sworn to be Saxons but Uhtred’s land of Northumbria wasn’t.

Uhtred is a feared warrior who refuses the title of king.

Uhtred’s alliance with the royal family of Wessex to the south is tested when the newly crowned King Aethelstan comes to power.

Details are magnified, the visuals are fine, the actors are above average, the storytelling is acceptable even if sometimes confusing, and the result is a spirited film that is best served when telling of the animosity between the pagans and Christians.

If you liked it on TV, you’ll probably like it as a movie. It’s at its best observing the customs and sexuality of the times and, in its set piece, showing the important Battle of Brunanburh in AD 937. Outside its TV fanbase, I doubt if it will attract too many other viewers to such a complex history lesson movie.