TV COLUMN: The Last Kingdom, Vera, 6 Nations Rugby

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies
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Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...

The Last Kingdom (BBC2) has returned for the second season of swords, slashing, grunting and a nobbling of historical facts in pursuit of a good yarn.

The story is so convoluted it makes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle read like a simple tale of everyday Dark Age folk. Set in the England of the late ninth century, it centres on the conflicts between the Saxons and various invading Danes, with hero Uhtred helping Alfred the Great (he who burned the cakes) fight off the marauding Vikings.

The Last Kingdom is a BBC’s poor man’s Game of Thrones, cannily shot mostly in the dark so as to save money on expensive special effects and a lot of grunting to save on the script.

It has, however, had more than enough money spent on it to warrant a better slot than 9pm on Thursday night and if someone ever had the will to lever the perpetual Casualty out of its Saturday evening fixture, The Last Kingdom would triple its audience.

What is has got is plot in abundance, so if you want the story-so-far, have a catch-up on iPlayer where, anticipating that even people who watched it would be lost, there’s a handy six-minute re-cap of season one.

Also back for another run is Vera (ITV), the Northumbrian detective played by Brenda Blethyn, who whines her victims into submission. Vera is Columbo reincarnated as your granny, decked out in raincoat and wellies, and with an irritating habit of picking everyone up on everything.

Vera is beautifully shot and the rugged Northumbria landscape makes for one of detective drama’s most visceral backdrops. Written by Ann Cleeves (who also wrote the highly-successful Shetland), the plots are suitably intricate and well-paced. For the audience, there’s a lot with which to play ‘armchair detective’.

Credit also to ITV, who unlike the BBC, know how to schedule their programmes and the Sunday evening slot is perfect for a bit of murder out in the fresh air.

The 6 Nations Rugby (BBC1/ITV) came to its thrilling end and proved once again that annual rugby tournament is one of the finest sporting events in the calendar.

The final weekend brought tragedy and comedy in equal doses. The comedy was in Paris, where referee, Wayne Barnes, seemed determined to steal the show for himself and the extraordinary and quite ludicrous extra twenty minutes of overtime turned the game of one of three halves.

The tragedy was over in Dublin where someone had forgotten to give the Irish the script for England’s back-to-back Grand Slams and world-record winning streak.

The Irish duly thumped lumps into the English for 80 minutes in a brutal game low on skill but high on physicality. Ireland won the game. England won the championship, though had the strange ignominy of having to line up to collect winners medals having just lost.

For traditionalists, the 6 Nations Championship title itself is a bit of a non-win. In the old days you won either a Triple Crown or a Grand Slam. In a year when Scotland beat Ireland, England beat Wales, Wales beat Ireland, and France beat Scotland, perhaps the old ways are the best.