Life & Culture

The Northman film review: 'Genuinely thrilling from start to finish'

Don't miss this Viking saga


The Northman

Cert: 18


Acclaimed writer-director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) delivers a visually stunning Viking saga in his third and best feature yet. Based on the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth - the origin story for Shakespearian tragedy Hamlet - The Northman was co-written by Eggers and Sjón, the multitalented writer, lyricists and longtime creative partner to Icelandic pop icon Björk.

Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Mute, Passing)heads an all-star cast featuring outstanding turns from Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, The Queen's Gambit, Emma), Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke and award winning Danish actor Claes Bang (The Square). Bjork (Dancer in the Dark) and legendary Hollywood actor Willem Defoe also star.

Prince Amleth (played by Oscar Novak as a child) is on the verge of becoming a man when his father the king (Hawke, sublime) is brutally murdered by his uncle Fjölnir (Bang) who also kidnaps the young boy's mother, queen Gudrún (Kidman). Two decades later, now a fearless and Viking fighter, Amleth (Skarsgård) vows to avenge his father’s death when he learns that his uncle has fled to Iceland after losing his kingdom and crown.

Disguised as a slave, Amleth reaches Iceland where rich land-owner Fjölnir has been living an idyllic rural life with Gudrún, their young son Gunnar and Fjölnir’s oldest son. After proving himself to be worthy of keeping as a slave, Amelth forms a strong bond with the strikingly beautiful Olga (Taylor-Joy), a powerful Slavic sorceress sold to slavery by her Viking captors. But not even Olga’s love can stop the young man from pursuing his deadly feud with his uncle.

This may be his third ever feature, but Eggers has already proven himself to be in a class of his own. Here, he has delivered an unflinchingly brutal, raw and genuinely thrilling tale of vengeance and passion. The US born filmmaker mixes Norse Mythology wIth medieval Scandinavian history to give us a brilliantly innovative art film which is worth every single penny of its rumoured $90 million budget.

Elevated by Jarin Blaschke’s stunning cinematography and by Eggers’ impressive technical dexterity, The Northman feels like a spine-chilling fever-dream where the lines between reality and fantasy are often blurred and where the mysticism is depicted in the most gloriously tripped-out, haunting and spooky fashion.

Alexander Skarsgård puts in a career-best performance as a young man consumed by his thirst for vengeance, while Anya Taylor-Joy is simply mesmeric as Olga, proving once again that she is here to stay.

Overall, this is truly a film not to be missed. Eggers has once again delivered the goods in what is likely to be the best film of the year so far. And while some might be put off by its brutality and graphic violence, The Northman remains the most honest and the most easily believable Viking-themed movie any of us are ever likely to experience. Genuinely thrilling from start to finish. 

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