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The Northman Review

“Fate has no mercy” is quite the fitting line from this bloody and brutal Viking revenge tale, as acclaimed arthouse director Robert Eggers (The Witch & The Lighthouse) combines his signature quirky style with Nordic mysticism for an adaptation of the influential Icelandic tale. With the popularity of Norse mythology and Viking culture ever enduring, thanks in part to acclaimed TV shows Vikings and The Last Kingdom and games Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and God of War, Eggers has set out to create one of the most accurate Viking films yet in his biggest screen outing.

The Northman follows Viking prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) who, after witnessing the brutal murder of his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), vows to take his bloody revenge. Years later, the now towering warrior returns from his exile to fulfil his destiny, disguising himself as a slave in the household of his treacherous uncle, where he hopes to rescue his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), his younger half-brother and fellow slave, Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy.)

Based on the Saga which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and in turn Disney’s The Lion King), Eggers and co-writer, Icelandic poet Sjón, has crafted a brutally epic Viking saga about the endless cycle of vengeance and violence, with his on brand bonkers mysticism and mythology interwoven throughout. Though the lush landscape is sprawling, the big-scale battle sequences primal and ferocious and the themes explored are weighty, at its heart is a surprisingly intimate character study delving and questioning the nature of this hero’s journey. Though the more out there ritual sequences may alienate some, The Northman is undeniably a fascinating look at shifting perspectives, the true cost and folly of revenge and the reverberating effects of legacy and honour. The runtime is a lengthy 137 mins split, between five distinct chapters, but there’s never a dull moment in this gripping tale of familial drama, tender romance and otherworldly influences.

“I will avenge you father; I will save you mother; I will kill you Fjölnir” is the often repeated motif by our anguished ‘hero’ Amleth, as Alexander Skarsgård utterly transforms into a truly hulking berserker warrior with a single-minded goal. Driven by the belief that he cannot escape his fate, that it’s his one true destiny to avenge his father, Amleth transforms himself into a true fighting machine, twisted by brutal vengeance. With such a cold, calculated and almost inhuman ferocity, it is at times hard to root for the tragic Prince, especially in the more violent and cruel raiding sequences – but the trajectory of his arc does shift once he meets Anya Taylor Joy’s radiant and resourceful witch, along with his long-lost mother and step brother. Skarsgård is incredibly captivating during this gradual evolution, expertly portraying a divided and torn Amleth.

Furthermore, the whole cast fully commit to the often outlandish and primal roles, particularly Hawke and Willem Dafoe’s court-jester in an particularly bonkers rites of passage sequence (complete with farts, burps and trippy literal family tree with the fruit bearing the lineage of kings.) While you kid be forgiven for thinking Kidman is relegated to a brief motherly role, she truly encapsulates the familial chaos in a brilliant turn in the third act, twisting Amleth’s worldview completely. While Björk’s fascinating seeress is unfortunately underused, Eggers fans will enjoy small cameos from regulars Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson.

While the heart of the narrative treads a relatively simple and well worn tale, its the pure cinematic spectacle in which the film truly roars to life. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke makes full use of the sweeping grandiose shots of the stark natural (and often harsh) beauty of the landscape – particularly with the spewing volcano looming large – as a backdrop, often bathing sequences in monochrome starkness or rich, earthy greens. The spectacle continues with an impressive single take action sequence following a brutally graphic and intense raid on a small village, tracking Amleth’s bear/wolf spirit animal frenzy as he leaps off buildings to bring down horsemen with axe and short sword in tow. The immersive spectacle and brutality of the action paired with composers Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough’s pulsating and chest beating score, makes for a truly unique experience, often leaving you breathless and on the edge of your seat.

Like his previous outings, Eggers once again fully commits to the period detailing, meticulously replicating villages, boats, costumes and weapons, along with the traditional funeral rites, trials and festivities. This grubby, Old World setting is cleverly juxtaposed with the more mystical and supernatural visions, as the director delves into Norse mythology, complete with dreams of soaring valkyries, clashes with undead swordsman, prophetic seers and visions of literal family trees. This big-screen mythological dive feels like a kindred spirit to David Lowery’s epic medieval fantasy The Green Knight, which also cleverly explores the archetypal tale of heroes and villains with fate and destiny.


The Northman is one of the most visceral cinematic experiences for some time. A bold, bloody & violent tale of vengeance & fate, it’s a captivating but trippy journey which won’t work for everyone (à la The Green Knight), but there’s no denying the utterly impressive scale & technical feat involved. A truly modern epic from Robert Eggers.