Ryan sees it through to the death with TV Saxon saga

12 Apr 2023
Saxon warriors in a shield wall

While many have been slain in the popular TV Saxon saga The Last Kingdom, University of Winchester Professor Ryan Lavelle has stayed the course through many a bloody battle.

Ryan, who is Professor of Early Medieval History at the University, has been the drama’s historical adviser through all of its five seasons and also worked on the series’ film finale, Seven Kings Must Die, which premieres on 14 April on Netflix.

He first became involved when the Last Kingdom started as a BBC production in 2014 and stayed on when it transferred to the streaming channel.

The show is produced by Carnival Films, makers of Downton Abbey, and mainly shot in Hungary.

Ryan Lavelle standing in front of King Alfred's statue

Ryan went out to Hungary for filming of the first season in 2014 but since then has worked with the producers remotely. This has meant receiving calls and messages asking about everything from the contents of a Middle Ages menu to Saxon shield designs.

He has dispensed advice on a diverse range of subjects, from the composition of the court and politics and everyday life in Anglo-Saxon England, to marriage traditions, costumes and head coverings.

 “The producers have listened to me where they have needed to but they haven’t let my obsession for historical detail drive the project,” says Ryan.

 Set in the ninth century, The Last Kingdom are based on Bernard Cornwell's best-selling novels with much of the action taking place in Winchester, the ancient capital of Wessex.

The series follows the exploits of the fictional warrior Uhtred - a Saxon nobleman kidnapped as a boy by Vikings - ­ who reluctantly sides with King Alfred, in his wars with the invading Danes.

When Alfred dies Uhtred continues to fight for his sons Edward and Aethelstan and the late king’s daughter Aethelflaed of Mercia.

In Seven Kings Must Die, Uhtred must combat a new invader, the Danish Warrior-King Anlaf who has united all of Aethelstan’s enemies in a great alliance which threatens the Saxon king’s dreams of a united kingdom.

“I think the show has a fairly good feel for the period and the different factions which existed then and the kinds of things which motivated them,” says Ryan.

And by and large The Last Kingdom has gone down well with historians.

“I believe it has been broadly welcomed by many scholars of the period because it has attracted so much interest and rewards historical knowledge,” says Ryan.

“It’s also supplied a cast of characters I can draw on to bring these stories alive for my students as well as some juicy anecdotes!”

Pictured top: Uhtred (played by Alexander Dreymon) commands a Saxon shield wall in a scene from the new Netflix film Seven Kings Must Die © 2022 Carnival Film & Television Limited.

Above: Professor of Early Medieval History Ryan Lavelle in front of King Alfred's statue.





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