The Northman

From a Puritan family whittled down by tragedy in the misty forests of New England to an island occupied by two men whose sanity is eroded by the waves which relentlessly assault the rocky cliffs, director Robert Eggers once again pushes to the edges of civilisation and the narrow line between human and monster in The Northman, his interpretation of the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth, most commonly known as one of Shakespeare’s sources of inspiration for Hamlet.

Opening in the year 895, bearing chests of treasure and slaves in chains upon a stormy sea King Aurvandill War-Raven returns home to his family, the icy Queen Gudrún and growing son Amleth; the joy of the reunion short lived, soon after Aurvandill is ambushed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir, Amleth reported as killed but in fact having made his way to the shore and escaped by boat, vowing revenge as his father made him swear.

Years pass, and Amleth has grown to become a Viking warrior, a half-bear half-wolf berserker, raiding villages with his brethren; hearing news of his accursed uncle and guided by the vision of a witch who directs him on “the path of ashes” to the edge of the world, Amleth masquerades as a slave to be sent north and sold to Fjölnir, knowing that they are destined to duel on “a burning lake bursting from a black mountail peak.”

The cast led by Godzilla vs Kong‘s Alexander Skarsgård who also serves as a producer, having wished to make a Viking epic for more than a decade, the ensemble reunites many of Eggers’ players from his previous films, The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga, another slave with whom Amleth allies himself, with Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson appearing in supporting roles,and The Lighthouse’s Willem Dafoe as a shaman, while Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman and Claes Bang take the roles of Aurvandill, Gudrún and Fjölnir.

Co-written by Eggers and Lamb’s Sjón, The Northman is told through formal dialogue earnestly delivered in sometimes awkward accents, but shot amongst the dramatic landscapes of Iceland under perpetually turbulent skies the whole feels primal, ceremonies of fire and elusive visions glimpsed through smoke demanding blood spilled be repaid in kind, Amleth fixated upon his slow revenge to the exclusion of all else, even ultimately Olga.

A world crowded with mysticism which sometimes feels superficial, so easy is it to find a seer, spirit guide or magical sword whose blade is as sharp as a dragon’s tooth and which will never dull, drawn from the same deep well there are moments which are overly reminiscent to Conan the Barbarian or The Lord of the Rings, and taking well over two hours to tell a familiar and essentially linear tale The Northman meets expectations but never exceeds them or surprises, the volcano eventually erupting as a force of nature but Amleth always holding back as if restrained.

The Northman is currently on general release



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