Far too often, “The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die,” an incomprehensible period epic based on the five-season television series “The Last Kingdom,” mistakes the mere presence of blood for a compelling narrative.
Set during the 10th century, before England was a united kingdom, the movie, directed by Ed Bazalgette, takes place as the recent death of King Edward and the ascent of his son Aethelstan (Harry Gilby) threaten a fragile peace among the country’s Pagan and Christian nation states. The loyal Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), a man of deep honor, wants to avoid a conflict that he thinks will continue for generations.
What occurs is a series of events rather than a story. If you haven’t watched the TV show, itself adapted from novels by the author Bernard Cornwell, then keeping up with the web of allegiances, characters and story lines will prove difficult. In this film alone, Uhtred’s sword is stolen, his land and title are stripped away, and a conniving Danish king, Anlaf (Pekka Strang), seeks to exploit him. Ingilmundr, the lover and Svengali of Aethelstan, also wants to turn the impressionable ruler against Uhtred.
The theme of Christian guilt in the face of homophobia bears no dramatic fruit. The film’s culminating battle isn’t much heartier: The compositions lack clarity, the score of undulating voices is comically clichéd and the visual effects are a dingy, nauseating mess. There are no stakes in a film that not only takes seven royal lives — it snatches several brain cells with them.
The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. Watch on Netflix.