I have had a keen interest in Norse mythology for as long as I can remember, I can picture a time of reading a book of Norse tales as a child and finding myself being carried away to these places of vast beauty and wonder, this tale, however, is filled with darkness, lust, revenge and anger… and I’m fully on board with it all. This was The Northman.
Robert Eggers has once again cemented himself as my favourite director working today, his attention to detail and historical accuracy is second to none. A lot of the time using natural light sources to illuminate shots (candlelight for instance) to incredibly well worked long takes to the language that’s used in the films, which is usually that of the time. Robert Eggers has previously released two films before this the intensely spooky The Witch from 2015 which is set in 1630s New England and the positively claustrophobic and primal The Lighthouse from 2019 with the setting of 1890s New England.
He has a habit of casting actors He’s used in his previous films like Anna Taylor Joy who featured in the witch alongside Ralph Ineson who both play parts in this film, there is also a small part for the wonderful Willem Defoe who starred alongside Robert Pattinson in the lighthouse and Kate Dickie who played the mother in the Witch, they just get what eggers are asking for with his projects so I was incredibly pleased to see them return. Anyway…enough gushing about Robert Eggers and let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
Gotta say I needed to take a deep breath and have a rest after The Northman. A brutal, blood-soaked Viking epic based on a Scandinavian legend – the same legend that inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet – director Robert Eggers’s third film is probably his most punishing. Nobody away without a scratch.
The film itself is your basic revenge story, Alexander Skarsgard’s Amleth as a young boy goes through a spiritual ritual with his father King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) to prepare him for the throne. The ritual is presided over by Heimir the fool (Willem Defoe). After this super primal and intense scene, the king is killed and the queen (Nicole Kidman), who is a real standout in this film Is carried away screaming as our young Amleth surrounded by bodies of fallen friends and townsfolk makes his way to shore and sails off professing revenge on the man of whom killed his father, promises to save his mother and vows to take back his rightful kingdom.
From here we catch up with a much older Amleth who still has the act of revenge echoing in his mind. We are treated to some amazing scenes from here that show us the man he has become.
From an incredible fireside scene with the backdrop of loud horns and bellowing drums to one long shot of sacking a village with his fellow berserkers, although they take it too far and you can see the pain and regret on his face as they fill a hall with women and children and burn into the ground. Amleth decides to cut his hair and brand himself as a slave to get him passage on a ship taking him to the kingdom he once lived in and hopefully enact his plot of revenge.
With all the rain, sweat, muck and blood on the screen, you’d struggle to think that The Northman – was so magnificently photographed by American cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. I can’t think of many instances (maybe in his last two films) where a film this heavy, dark, dank and dreary can be so damn beautiful. Hawke and Kidman channel their inner Shakespeare, Anya Taylor-Joy’s allure and charms are a perfect match for Olga, the sorceress who pillages Amleth’s heart. But this is Skarsgård’s film, he is outrageously good as the grizzled warrior whose methods make him a difficult figure to root for. And yet, you cannot take your eyes off him. He is the centrepiece of this towering, triumphant display.
There is still so much to talk about, this film has many twists and turns and various avenues…and you know I’d love to tell you more about the film…but why would I do that? Go and see it. Go and feel it. You will not be disappointed. This might have been the most outstanding and visceral cinema experience I’ve ever had. Seriously. 5 stars all around for T’ Northman.