In Review

Film review: The Northman

Gory Viking revenge movie based on the myth that inspired Hamlet

“You should really put in some kind of training before submitting yourself to this Viking Braveheart,” said Tom Shone in The Sunday Times. An adaptation of the Norse folk tale that inspired Hamlet, the film is “a beast” – a “grunting, howling, gore-soaked tangle of blood, muscle and vengeance” that is both “incredibly violent and magisterially strange”. The tale revolves around Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), a prince who, as a boy, watched his uncle (Claes Bang) murder his father before carrying off his mother (Nicole Kidman) and seizing the throne. Amleth flees overseas but returns to the kingdom as an adult, transformed by the intervening years into a hulking Viking “berserker” with a “heart of cold fire” that is now bent on revenge. “The film feels not so much shot and edited as dropped from the sky by ravens and beaten into shape in a smithy.” I loved it.

The Northman has been proclaimed a “masterpiece”, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday, but I can’t see why. “Yes, it looks magnificent”, but there’s little more than “muscle and machismo” to Skarsgård’s role – and how this film “escaped with only a 15 certificate is beyond me”. 

It is violent, said Kevin Maher in The Times, but it is also rather silly. Director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) takes his “Scandinavian beefcakes” so seriously, there are moments when the film lapses into “risible camp”. “Sleep well, night blade,” was the line that got me giggling, and after that, it was hard to stop. Other inadvertently funny bits are Amleth’s romance with a “sassy slave” played by Anya Taylor-Joy, and the cast’s sing-songy accents. The film is a one-note fiasco, a “foam-flecked depiction of cartoon machismo” from a director who should have known better.

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