“My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and his father was also called Uhtred. My father’s clerk, a priest called Beocca, spelt it Utred.”
This post contains my feelings and thoughts on the differences between the book (by Bernard Cornwell) and the TV series (produced by Carnival Films for BBC Two and BBC America). This intended for those who watched the show and want to know if reading the book is necessary but if you’ve done both you might want to read my thoughts anyway. Spoilers will be discussed from the start so please go elsewhere if you are interested in the book series but haven’t watched the show. Thank you!
The first book in the series is explored in episodes 1-5 of series 1 and provides a much deeper insight and understanding into Uhtred’s childhood and how he was raised by the Danes than the show. Over half of the book covers this, but by the end of episode one, Uhtred is an adult. Some of his key childhood scenes still made their way into the show, such as: Lord Ubba and Lord Guthrum asking about the death of Saint Sebastian and Alfred talking of sleeping with the servant girl to Beocca, followed by him advising Alfred to bring her into his service and to thank God for testing him.
What I like most about the book is how Brida was introduced. In the show it’s quite weak, simply as another child from Northumbria whom became a slave to the Danes. In the book they find her in East Anglia and what I liked most about it is how Cornwell (author) shows her spirit and why she so easily favoured the Danes over the English and preferred their lifestyle. Brida is just as spirited in the show (played beautifully by Emily Cox) but still feels like she’s overlooked by the TV writers, thus falling short of her source material. Brida was a let-down and I feel Uhtred was also a let-down. I’m impressed by Alexander Dreymon’s portrayal of Uhtred – he carries Uhtred’s spirit with care and is able to explore his wild and unshakeable heart – but the show makes no effort to explain why he still yearns for Bebbanburg after losing his Dane family. Yet, he his driven by birth right and a sense of betrayal, formally by his uncle and now Kjartan, but that’s about all the show covers.
I didn’t watch the show until the re-runs in January 2017 but my Mum had already watched it and recommended it to me. While watching the early episodes of the first series I often turned to my Mum and asked “ why does he even want Bebbanburg?” and “He was more than content being a Dane – he wanted to marry a Dane girl in order to prove himself a true Dane – but now that’s gone he wants the old thing back?”. The books makes it very easy to understand Uhtred’s thinking. At various points in the book, during his development from a boy into a young man, he regularly askes himself the same questions: what of Bebbanburg? Why do I still want it, still pulled to it? – These are paraphrased, call me lazy but I did not want to flick through the book to find the exact quotes. The answer – from what I can make out – is Bebbanburg made him who his is, it’s his identity and the Danes just took him and crafted and moulded him into who he was meant to be.
I did enjoy the show and look forward continuing the series! I have recently purchased the second book – The Pale Horseman – and will write another comparison/review once I have finished reading it.
Thanks for reading!