In recent years, stories about the Viking Age have seemed to have caught the small screen’s attention with shows like The Last Kingdom, Vikings and its new spin-off series Vikings: Vallhalla. The big screen, unfortunately, hasn’t seen so much of that historic period until now. The American director Robert Eggers, notably known for his acclaimed horror films The Witch and The Lighthouse, has come along and decided he wanted to try his hand at it and so The Northman was born.
Based on the same Norse mythology that inspired Hamlet, the revenge thriller is set in 10th century Iceland and it follows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) as he seeks revenge against his uncle, Fjölnir played by Claes Bang, for murdering his father King Horwendil (Ethan Hawke). From the day he witnessed his father’s death, a young Amleth dedicates his life to this saying: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” He flees his mother, Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and his home for safety and finds refuge with these beast-like Vikings that raise him as their own. Years later during one of their raids, Amleth overhears that Fjölnir was run out of the kingdom by a usurper and is now a farmer. This has reinvigorated Amleth to take his vengeance so he disguised himself as a captured Slavic and sneaks on a boat back to his country. On this journey home, he is acquainted with Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who helps on his quest to defeat his uncle and the two form a romantic bond throughout the film.
Eggers seems to be quite a fan of Anya Taylor-Joy as this isn’t the first appearance the British-Argentine actress has made in his films and it won’t be the last. Taylor-Joy previously starred in The Witch and has already secured a leading role in Nosferatu, Egger’s remake of the 1922 silent German vampire film. The American director also brought back The Lighthouse star Willem Dafoe who plays Heimir The Fool.
The performances in this film are outstanding but it’s clear that Skargård is the one to watch. Young Amleth (Oscar Novak) loved his father dearly and was a sponge ready to soak up all the kingly knowledge Horwendil was going to pass down. Watching Fjolnir decapitate his father’s head was the start of the many challenges he’d face as a young adult but his resilience and his mantra are what keep him going. The transition to Skarsgård as older Amleth is seamless and the strong performance of the now hardened character continued and excelled throughout the film. Taylor-Joy and Skarsgård made for some of the film’s softer scenes with their characters’ slow-growing affection toward one another. “I knew my fate would lead me to Iceland but my fate never prepared me for you,” Amleth said as he stroked Olga’s hand. That was just one of the many scenes that showcase the wonderful bond between Taylor-Joy and Skarsgård. Eggers invited Icelandic writer and poet Sjón to write the script with him and since they previously met through the multi-talented Björk, they could not envision anyone else fit for the role of the Seeress.
The Northman is already being praised as the most accurate Viking movie ever made and it’s hard not to agree. Historians and archaeologists have been tapped in to meticulously consult on the project and an example of that would be the exquisite score. Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough expertly use authentic Viking age instruments like the langspil and the talharpa. The Oscar-nominated cinematographer Jarin Blaschke has also returned to partner up with Eggers and has pulled out all the stops in this film. It’s completely immersive and it perfectly captures this era bringing it to life. It’s as engrossing and addictive as viewing gets.
The film is filled to the brim with action; it’s very violent and gory but due to the period of the film, that is to be expected. The Northman is a spectacular and ingeniously made Viking epic. Eggers crafted a perfectly weird film that must be seen!
The Northman opens in theatres on April 22
by Kadija Osman
Kadija Osman is based in Toronto, Ontario and is currently completing her undergrad in journalism at Ryerson University. She enjoys writing about film and TV. When she isn’t watching Timothée Chalamet’s filmography, she is probably reading romance and thriller novels or ranting about the disappointing cancellation of E!’s The Royals. Her favourite films include Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lady Bird and Ready or Not. You can find her on Twitter: @kadijaosman_ and Letterboxd.