The Northman – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
In cinemas April 15th
This historical drama is based on the legend of Amleth. If that sounds familiar it’s because it is the direct inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And indeed former theatre director Eggers draws heavily on his stage background for this production.
It has more than a few Shakespearean undertones alongside allusions to Greek mythology and even a scene that is incredibly reminiscent of a famous Star Wars moment (no spoilers but I wasn’t the only one who thought that at the screening I attended).
Skarsgård plays Amleth, who as a child witnesses his father the King (Hawke) being murdered by his uncle Fjölnir (Bang). Vowing to avenge him he escapes and years later he discovers that his uncle lost his kingdom and is now a feudal lord. Amleth poses as a slave to exact his revenge but his intentions are compromised by the fact that his mother is now married to Fjölnir and they have a son, Amleth’s half-brother.
This is a sweeping epic that features some amazing cinematography. Visually it is incredibly impressive. It is also incredibly stylised and arty which won’t be to everybody’s taste. It is extremely primal and grisly with one or two, particularly gruesome scenes. However, it often struggles when it tries to be profound and delve too deeply into the human condition.
Skarsgård is very impressive in the lead role and has great chemistry with Taylor Joy who plays his love interest here. Bang is wonderful as Amleth’s evil Uncle and even Bjork gives a mesmerising performance despite her role being more or less a cameo. Kidman does fall somewhat short though. She appears to struggle with the richness of the language and the scale of the saga. Also, Hawke, while having a wonderful scene with the actor who plays the younger Amleth, doesn’t seem comfortable in the historical epic.
This has been billed as this year’s Gladiator and while it does share many underlying themes with that movie the similarities end there. While it has its merits it is unlikely to be remembered as fondly as that swords and sandals epic. That aside this is very absorbing albeit a little too long at 137 minutes. There is a lot that feels like filler and it does slow the movie down. It would benefit from losing around 20 minutes. It is very atmospheric and engaging although it’s unlikely to be a film you’ll return to in the years to come.