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‘The Northman’ – Review

‘The Northman’ – Review


Ready yourself for a triumphant and awe-inspiring cinematic experience with David Eggers’ Viking saga The Northman. This is a Teutonic movie of epic scale and savage narrative, and audiences will be awe-inspired by its wild and feral filmmaking.

Starring Alexander Skarsgard as Viking prince Amleth, who following the murder of his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) at the hands of his evil uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), Amleth sets out to revenge his father and take his kingdom no matter the cost.

Bringing this colossal epic to life up on the big screen is noted visionary filmmaker Robert Eggers’ who has shown with his last two pictures, The Witch and The Lighthouse, that he has the makings of an auteur, and The Northman again clarifies this. Regarded for his keenly detailed eye and maintaining a strong focus for narrative and character, Eggers devotes everything of himself as an artist to The Northman, and his commitment shows in every frame that makes its way to the canvas of the screen. Appearing as an almost Wagnerian painting, The Northman is utterly beautiful to look upon, yet it hides nothing back from the Dark Age in which its brooding narrative is set. This is an age of iron and blood, and while the locations of Norway, The Rus and Iceland are beautiful to look upon, they do not hide the savagery that takes place.

Eggers crafts The Northman as a truly epic film and looks back to the ancient Viking sagas for the setting for his tale, and he tells the revenge tale of Prince Amleth, which inspired Shakespeare’s own Hamlet. Broad in scope and scale, Eggers dives deep into Norse mythology for his tale and his is a story where both man and The Æsir are at work and where men turn themselves into beasts. The language and style of The Northman are utterly Shakespearian, and it is an altogether different kind of epic film that moves at its own pace and pays tribute to the Icelandic sagas of the past. Amleth’s path to his ultimate revenge is tempered with fire at every turn and he is a character who seeks every strike to last. And as we move forward in the narrative the drama grows deeper and the action wilder.

The film’s cinematography, production design, art direction, costuming, hair and make-up, armoury and general detail are utterly fantastic to look upon, with Eggers truly transporting his audience back to a different time and place. This is a true portrait of the Dark Ages, where life and blood run cheap and where fate and fortune intertwine with each other. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke focuses on a darkened palette of natural light, both in day and night to capture the dark, somewhat nihilistic tone of the narrative, and roaring fires and stark clouds cloak this film in light. The images he captures are vivid and present Alexander Skarsgard’s Amleth as an almighty titan, and the film’s wild excesses will capture your full attention. The Northman is simply stunning to look upon, and it is like watching an Arthur Rackham painting come to life.

Standing at the centre of Eggers’ mighty narrative is Alexander Skarsgard and this Scandinavian acting force gets to channel his inner Viking heritage as the vengeful and crazed Prince Amleth. Robbed of his kingdom and birthright, Skarsgard’s Amleth is now more animal than man, called the ‘Bear-Wolf’, he has become a ferocious berserker who knows no mercy and who lives for the war cry of the battlefield. But when destiny and fortune present themselves, Amleth seizes on his chance for vengeance and a dark road opens up before him to take it. Skarsgard is an utter beast as Amleth, exuding power and strength as the personification of rage, but as he begins his road to the quest for his own revenge, his character changes in unforeseen ways and is tested by dramatic choices. Skarsgard presents Amleth as a tragic-hero figure and as his quest changes him, as secrets are brought to life and the presence of fate interjects on his behalf, the ethics of his plan soon begin to weigh on his heavy brow. Skarsgard holds the gaze of his audience as Amleth and his raw performance is incredibly powerful in its presentation.

Standing beside Skarsgard is Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic sorceress who soon becomes a key part to his mission of revenge as well as the love of his life. Standing as a rare beauty in such a chaotic time, Taylor-Joy’s Olga of the Birch Forest is a strong and powerful woman whose wild sorcery gives her dangerous powers, and she is not one to be trifled with. As an actress, Taylor-Joy presents Olga as a survivor, and she shares incredible chemistry onscreen with Skarsgard, and as the narrative moves forward we see them come together in a primordial love that is touching and exhilarating to watch. Taylor-Joy also jumps headfirst into the muck and blood of production, and she puts her mark on the narrative.

Providing a key level of support to The Northman are performers Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawk and Willem Defoe and each has a key role to play in the film’s vengeance narrative. As the treacherous Fjölnir the Brotherless, Claes Bang makes for a striking adversary and he squares up to Skarsgard with sword in hand. Nicole Kidman grabs your attention as the complicated and cunning Queen Gudrún, Amleth’s mother and a woman who is not who she presents herself to be. And there’s plenty of venom laced into her performance. Ethan Hawke is an old-war dog as King Aurvandill War-Raven, Amleth’s father and Fjölnir’s brother who strives to teach his son to rule in the old ways, but who is cut down by cold iron and strikes the spark that leads to his son’s path of vengeance. And finally, Willem Dafoe as Heimir the Fool, brings Amleth guidance where needed, and his kooky performance is sure to keep the audience somewhat ill at ease.

The Northman is a film of savage fury and keeps to the history and customs of the Viking Age. As a portrait of a true pagan society, Eggers keeps everything related to historical accuracy and the strong themes of religion, blood ties and family legacies are sewn into the narrative. Questions of right and wrong and moments of perspective and clarity keep this narrative interesting and the audience guessing. There’s a true ferocity to the storytelling and its presentation in The Northman and when Amleth finally draws forth the demonic sword Draugr and sets to his task of vengeance blood flows and heads roll. Key cinematic moments including The Berserker Raid in The Land of the Rus, which is a fierce and haunting spectacle to witness, and the film’s climactic showdown on the gates of Hel, at the base of the Volcano Hekla, is an awe-inspiring sight to witness, especially when set to the rousing score of Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough.

The Northman stands alone as an utter triumph of the silver screen. As a thunderous portrait of the Viking Age and its incredibly complex and intricate character study, The Northman succeeds on every level of creativity and this Dark Age picture is sure to bound itself to your soul.

Image: Universal Pictures