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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

When you've had enough of Coronavirus briefings..

So, those of us of a certain vintage will have had our first Covid jab by now, but, sadly, a ritual stabbing doesn't mean we can now start to party down and nip off to the local for a swift half or to the cinemas any time soon. Which means there are still a few winter nights to get through, stuck in front of the magic lantern, or as some might term it: the idiot box in the corner, before we're given our freedom to roam.

Which is one reason I didn't bother to cancel my Netflix or Amazon subscriptions this month. So many things to watch and so little time etc...

Any road, if, like me, you're happy with small screen presentations, I thought I'd throw in my two penn'th worth on a few series/films you might like to look out for if you haven't cottoned on to them already. Some are not new but I've added them to the mix because they've either come to the end of their run (you'll know which one I mean), while others are hovering in the ether while the powers-that-be decide whether or not to renew them for another season.

They're all got an historical slant, so here we go:

Think it's fair to say this has had some mixed reviews, with more than a few people complaining that it's a tad too slow. Well, I'm here to tell you that in my humble opinion, it ain't. Plus it's Tom Hanks, f'r Pete's sake!

At it's heart, this is a character-driven, not a shoot-em-up western, so don't expect a bullet-ridden sequence of gunfights. That's not to say there aren't action-set pieces, however, which prove, if nothing else, that it's pretty difficult to aim properly when someone is shooting back at you.

Hanks and his young co-star, Helena Zengel are terrific and I have to say their on-screen chemistry reminded me a little of Hugh Jackman's relationship with Dafne Keen in the brilliant Logan.

The good news is that the fifth season Of The Last Kingdom is being filmed even as I type, though I'm not too sure when it's gonna be on Netflix's listings (thank goodness they took this over from the Beeb, because it's grown in stature with each series).

War Lord, the last book in the thirteen novel saga hit the bookshelves last Autumn so I guess - with two books to every filmed season - we've still got a way to go before Uhtred of Bebbanburg hangs up his sword...on screen, at any rate.

Wyrd bið ful aræd.

I'm guessing this is Germany's attempt to emulate the success of Michael Hirst's brilliant series Vikings. Set during the Roman occupation of Germania - think the opening scenes in Ridley Scott's Gladiator for the period setting - and the subsequent revolt by the Germanic tribes, led by real-life character Arminius.

After only one season, it's too early to tell if the show will really take off (Netflix has renewed it for a second season), but it's good fun, suitably bloody, with good action sequences and a selection of characters who do hold the interest., albeit, I think it's true to say, without the charisma of the Vikings cast. Yes, it does play fast and loose with historical accuracy, but if you accept that premise from the start, then just switch your brain into neutral and enjoy the ride.

Now, I've gotta be honest here, Jaime Lorente López, who plays the title role in this new Spanish adaptation, ain't no Charlton Heston. For a start, I'm guessing that even if he pulled himself up to his full height, he might just reach Heston's armpit. Well, he would do now, as Heston's in his grave and laying prostrate, but you know what I mean.

Also while Heston was a tall, brooding hero in the epic film, here, the Cid comes across as a surly short-arse who looks all the time as if he'd like to punch somebody on the nose. Or at least on the kneecap.

But what he lacks in charisma, he makes up for in dark scowling. Season One was only five episodes long, but it seems it was pretty popular because it was announced last month (Jan 2021) that a second season has been commissioned. As the Season One finale did leave us hanging, somewhat, I'm quite happy about that and interested to see how the miserable bugger becomes Spain's greatest champion. Oh, and just a suggestion: watch it in the original Spanish, 'cos the dubbing into English is appalling.

Gotta say that I thought this was terrific. It's a ten-episode historical drama based on the life of the 18th-century outlaw leader Jan de Lichte, a native of Aalst in what is now Belgium.

You start watching this expecting it to be a Flemish Robin Hood story, as the main character is portrayed as a highwayman and a champion of the down-trodden lower classes, who gather around him in his forest hideaway, but it's much more than that.

Set during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), it doesn't shy away from the grisly aspect of desperately trying to stay alive when illness and poverty is all around you. It's pretty violent, but that's in keeping with the times and the storyline and the plot kept me gripped throughout. Definitely worth a look.

This, frankly, is as mad as a barrel load of monkeys. And it's utterly bloody brilliant. If you haven't watched it yet (where have you been, down a sinkhole?) then you should know that The Great in question is Empress Catherine of Russia, she who was supposed to have enjoyed nookie with her horse. She didn't, by the way, that's an urban myth, probably started by the fruit loop she was married to (at least as portrayed by the wonderful Nicholas Hoult) in this seriously funny, and yet at times brutally violent creation, the brainchild of genius writer Tony McNamara. I had to keep checking Wikipedia to convince myself that Elle Fanning, who plays Catherine, is American and not British, because her accent in this amazing. It's just a hoot from start to finish and one of the best things on terrestrial telly. Huzzah!

Came upon this one as I'm a huge fan of French costume drama, a couple of them being high on the list of my all-time favourite movies: Le Bossu (The Hunchback) and Le Pacte des Loups (The Brotherhood of the Wolf); the latter also starring the great Vincent Cassel, who plays the hero in Emperor.

What first caught my eye with this is that the hero, Vidocq, is one of the main characters in my novel, Rebellion, which sees Hawkwood heading to Paris to assist his old comrade-in-arms, Colquhoun Grant, in an attempt to overthrow the French government.

It was the fact that Vidocq was a real person that drew me to him. A former soldier, gambler, counterfeiter, duellist and thief, he became so hacked off with life behind bars that he offered his services as an informer to the Paris police in exchange for an amnesty. His success at catching criminals was such that he later changed sides to become the first head of the Brigade de Sûreté, the department which later became the inspiration for Scotland Yard. He went on to create the first known private investigative agency and was reputedly the model for Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Miserables.

Now don't expect complete historical accuracy here, but if you like your costume adventures to be dark and dirty with plenty of gritty (and bloody) action, then give this one a try. Yes, it has its faults, but it's great fun and not a bad way to while away a couple of hours.

And finally (alas)...

And so farewell to one of the best series to have been on Amazon Prime. Violent and bloody, with a fantastic array of characters, many of them taken from real life, it might have played fast and loose with historical accuracy but it was never meant as a documentary, for goodness sake. It was made to entertain and it certainly did that by the shed load. Perhaps it did falter briefly with the demise of Ragnar, played by the wonderfully charismatic Travis Fimmel, but it picked up speed not that long after and remained totally watchable until the very end.

One of the standout features for me was the number of strong women's roles, in particular that of Ragnar's wife, Lagertha, as portrayed by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, who could kick ass with the best of them (she'd gained a black belt in martial arts by the age of 13). In many respects she held the series together when Ragnar was no longer with us.

The last season - Six - provided a fitting climax to the story. It was sad to see it go and I envy those people who let it slip by them, but who might have now decided to take a look to see what all the fuss has been about. Happy viewing..!


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