Released: 21st April
Seen: 26th April
Robert Eggers is quickly turning into one of the most fascinating directors in modern cinema. His directorial debut, The Witch, set the horror world alight and introduced us to Anya Taylor-Joy who is becoming one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. It was the kind of first film that you could only dream of making, garnering critical and financial praise while establishing Eggers as the kind of artist who was able to make an intense period horror that people couldn’t get enough of… something he would prove again with The Lighthouse, a gloriously bonkers piece that proved that Eggers had some wild ideas that he wanted to test out. His first two films proved what Eggers could do on a small scale. The Northman shows what Eggers can do when he’s tasked with an epic and god damn it, it turns out he can do magic.
The Northman tells an age-old story of revenge that begins when a young Viking prince named Amleth (Oscar Novak) witnesses his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) being murdered by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who also steals Amleth’s mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Amleth, stricken with grief and a need for revenge, manages to escape but swears to return in order to avenge his father, save his mother and kill his uncle. Years pass and Amleth (Now played by Alexander Skarsgard) has grown into a mighty warrior and learns that his uncle is in Iceland and so prepares to infiltrate his uncle’s group of slaves, which includes the sorceress Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy) in order to slowly tear the man’s world apart before getting sweet revenge.
The Northman is clearly being as loyal as it can be to Viking mythology, evidenced by bringing on literal Viking historians in order to make sure they got everything as close to accurate as possible (If you’ve seen a Robert Eggers film before, his commitment to recreating a specific time period shouldn’t be a shock to you) but I’m aware most of us probably aren’t as familiar with Viking mythology as the people who made this film, so I’ll be the cliche and translate the story into Shakespeare because it’ll give you a better angle. Picture the core revenge plot of Hamlet, throw in a tiny bit of Romeo and Juliet for seasoning and give the mother a vile monologue that would make Lady Macbeth proud and there you have it. Throw that into a Viking setting, you’ve got The Northman.
The Northman puts every bit of gravitas possible into every single frame, it plays everything to the hilt and it works more often than it doesn’t. The grandiose sets, powerful visuals and exquisite design make for a film that just pulls you in from the opening shot and then lets the powerhouse performances drag you through this story. Sure it’s a little long and the intensity of the dialogue can be a little overpowering at times, but god damn is it just compelling as hell. The passion and the power in every single moment is undeniable, even quiet moments of sombre reflection have a certain intensity to them, largely thanks to the incredible leading performance.
Alexander Skarsgard has been a big deal in TV for a while, thanks to his charming performance in True Blood and his intensely hateable performance in Big Little Lies but his film work just hasn’t been able to use him properly… until now. Somehow Alexander toes the line between a man dealing with an intense trauma that has defined his life and a living murder machine who can and will rip your heart out without breaking stride. He’s a large powerful imposing figure who is somehow able to make himself look weak when needed, largely just by using his almost cartoonishly expressive eyes that make him go from a puppy to a blood-thirsty wolf in a matter of seconds. It’s the kind of performance that should have his phone ringing off the hook and just carries the film… which is great because The Northman needed to be carried long enough for Nicole Kidman to steal it.
We might be a year out from the next Oscars but Nicole Kidman’s already staking a claim for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar with her brilliant layered and jaw-dropping performance. From the minute she’s on-screen you can’t look away and as The Northman goes on and she gets more and more moments to work some subtle magic, you realise the entire film is relying on her to give it motion. Hell, there’s one monologue she does that’s so intense that you’re going to want to stand and applaud her. Honestly, that monologue alone is worth the price of admission.
Fortunately, there is just so much more to The Northman, it’s a rich epic that’s certainly using the classics as a foundation but puts so much unique Robert Eggers flair on top of it that it stands on its own. It’s powerful and dark and visually stunning with enough action to satisfy almost any audience. Of course, Robert Eggers is the kind of director whose work is so specific that there are some who might just not get into it, if you didn’t get The Lighthouse or The Witch I can’t imagine The Northman is going to be the film that’ll grab you from his catalogue but it’s worth giving a go because it’s so wonderfully well made and has such a great cast handling it that if you’re lucky enough to be the right audience for this one, you’re in for a treat.