'Downton Abbey' + 'Game of Thrones' = 'The Last Kingdom'?

The producers of 'Downton Abbey' – hoping to speak to a 'Game of Thrones' audience – are beginning production on 'The Last Kingdom,' a new historical drama set in medieval times.

By , Correspondent

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    “The Last Kingdom” is based on Bernard Cornwell’s “The Saxon Stories,” a series of bestselling warrior novels that have been adapted for the screen by Stephen Butchard.
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A new drama from the producers of “Downton Abbey” that’s being compared to “Game of Thrones?”

Filming hasn’t even begun yet on BBC’s “The Last Kingdom,” but the upcoming series already has “hit” written all over it.

The BBC and Carnival Films, producers of “Downton Abbey,” are beginning production on a new historical drama set in medieval times that will center on the Saxons and Vikings, the BBC announced this week.

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“The Last Kingdom” is based on Bernard Cornwell’s “The Saxon Stories,” a series of bestselling warrior novels that have been adapted for the screen by Stephen Butchard. Filming is set to begin in the autumn with eight hour-long episodes planned to air in 2015.

The BBC is calling the series “a show full of heroic deeds and epic battles” that embraces “politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity.”

The drama is set in the year 872 in the kingdom of Wessex, a sovereign area under King Alfred the Great that has been resisting Viking invasions for years. It centers on Uhtred, son of a Saxon nobleman, who has been orphaned and kidnapped by Vikings and raised as one of their own. Now grown, he must determine whether his allegiance lies with his heritage or his adoptive peoples, as he embarks on a mission to recapture his ancestral lands and play a part in the birth of a new nation.

The British press has already gone wild over the new series, calling it the UK’s answer to America’s popular “Game of Thrones.”

“’Game of Thrones’ is the biggest TV show to dominate screens this year, and it looks like the BBC are hoping to emulate its success with their latest show,” writes the UK’s Express.

“Bernard Cornwall’s bestselling Saxon Stories are to be adapted for television as the BBC makes a play for the ‘Game of Thrones’ audience,” says the UK's Telegraph.

With “The Last Kingdom,” the BBC and Carnival Films are attempting to capitalize on the success of “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey,” two of the most popular recent series on TV.

Though the series are poles apart, they share surprising parallels that have proved to be a winning combination for TV audiences – resonant historical settings, strong story lines, and compelling characters.

That formula has worked well for the BBC and HBO with “Downton” and “Game of Thrones,” respectively, and the BBC is betting it will also draw large audiences for “The Last Kingdom.”

The new drama is also likely to bring fresh attention to the “Saxon Stories,” a series of historical novels by Cornwell about the emergence of England as a nation under King Alfred of Wessex, leader of the last Saxon kingdom to resist the Vikings in 9th- and 10-century Britain.

At the center of the stories is protagonist Uhtred, who recounts his life and the founding of a new nation, decades later, as an old man telling tales of years past.

The popular historical novels are known for being meticulously researched and for their epic battle sequences – sure to play well on TV screens.

“It’s an epic narrative with an extraordinary creative team. It will feel like nothing else on television, with all of the scale and intrigue of the best fantasy stories but the reality of fact,” controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson told the Telegraph.

Even “Game of Thrones” George RR Martin had high praise for Cornwell’s “Saxon Stories.”

“There has never been anyone that writes better battle stuff than him; his war is amazing. He really captures the drama of combat,” Martin told the Telegraph.

“Downton” fans may have another series to anticipate, this one centering on the ancestry of Lord Grantham and his progeny.

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