Iceland, 895. King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), nicknamed the “Raven of War”, husband of Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and father of little Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a Viking prince, has returned home after military affairs. During the campaign, the king was wounded, so he hurried to conduct an initiation ceremony with his son Amlet, symbolizing the transformation of the boy into a dog of war. The rite is not too complicated: you need to drink from a bowl, howl at the moon, after which the jester and part-time shaman Heymir (Willem Dafoe) will stone the boy with all sorts of nonsense, and he will catch a funny arrival.
However, immediately after the initiation, it turned out that not everything was fine in the Viking kingdom. The brother of the King, the bastard Fjolnir (Klas Bang), decided to sit on the throne with his own back, for which he killed Aurvandil, put the simple-haired Gudrun in one nightgown on his shoulder, and ordered the initiated Amleth to be killed. However, the boy turned out to be nimble, so he inflicted significant damage to the appearance of Fjolnir’s assistant, got into the boat and swam away wherever his eyes looked.
Growing up, Amlet, as part of a group of fighting Vikings, was engaged in a standard Viking craft: they rob cows, capture and burn villages, sell captives into slavery – in general, entertain themselves as best they can.
But then, at some point, the sorceress told Amlet that his vile uncle had been overthrown from the throne and that he had settled somewhere in Iceland, where the Vikings were just going to send slaves for sale. The ashes of Aurvandil knock at the heart of the Viking prince, so that he cuts his hair, dresses in slave clothes, and under such cover goes to Iceland to meet with a scoundrel relative.
During a long journey on a drakkar, Amlet befriends Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), a girl from the village that was destroyed by a group of Vikings along with Amlet. But Olga does not betray the prince. She herself hopes to escape from captivity, and Amlet – he is a very, very strong guy. Olga would even say – brutal. And the help of such a guy will obviously be very useful.
Will Amlet be able to avenge his father? Will he and Olga be able to escape from captivity towards new adventures? These questions are incredibly unimpressed by the famous cinema man Bublik the cat.
The heart and engine of this film was the Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård, son of actor Stellan Skarsgård and brother of four other Skarsgårds, all of whom are also actors. It was Alexander who dreamed of playing a Viking, and he seriously prepared for this role both physically and intellectually: Alexander re-read a large number of different materials on the history of the Vikings. And he and producer Lars Knudsen worked for some time on the script for such a film, but somehow without much success.
At some point, Skarsgard shared this idea with director Robert Eggers: he didn’t care much about all these Vikings, but he had recently visited Iceland and this country delighted him – Eggers really wanted to show it on the screen. Eggers was also very interested in stories about all sorts of ancient Icelandic rituals and witchcraft, and at some point the singer Björk, with whom Eggers talked, introduced the director to the Scandinavian writer Sion, the author of many books on this topic.
As a result, Sjohn and Eggers began working on a film script based on the Scandinavian legend of Prince Amleth, and Alexander Skarsgård was fine with that.
By the way, the plot of the legend about Amlet, found in the “Acts of the Danes” by Saxo Grammaticus, written at the beginning of the 13th century, and in the “Chronicle of the Kings from Leyre”, really very much resembles the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, and in the “Acts of the Danes” the queen, mother Amlet’s name is Geruda (in Hamlet she is Gertrude). And there are certain assumptions that Shakespeare was inspired by these legends when writing Hamlet. Although it is impossible not to notice that such stories actually came to us from very ancient times, when there was still no writing.
The picture was staged by Eggers at Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures. The project was put into production in October 2020, and in December 2021, at the post-production stage, it became known about various frictions between Eggers and producers who were not satisfied with the director’s cut: at test screenings, the audience was very unhappy with the ending and the studio demanded certain alterations from the director .
Before that, Eggers had only staged original films – “The Witch”, “The Lighthouse” – and was not used to the dictates of the producers, but here we were already talking about a fairly high-budget film, so no one let the director be self-willed, and he had to re-edit the picture like this the studio required.
Later, the director said that it was a very painful experience, which he is unlikely to want to repeat in the future. Eggers would like to make another big film with a big budget, but he is well aware that in this case he will not be able to get full creative freedom.
However, I note that many cases are known when the studio, trying to get some well-known director, can provide him with very wide creative freedom. But, by the way, about the lack of control at the stage of final editing – I have not heard of such a thing even in such cases.
What happened to Eggers? In my opinion, he got something like “Conan the Barbarian”, only much more expensive, noticeably more brutal, bloodier and more naturalistic, with the most colorful landscapes of northern Ireland, which depicted Iceland here. At the same time, the picture is filled with all sorts of mysticism and rather wild rituals, which were specially shown in the favorite style of this director: solid darkness, flashes of fire, among which all sorts of human bodies appear – either almost naked, or dressed in all sorts of bizarre shamanistic witchcraft clothes.
The director himself admitted in an interview that when creating this film, he was really inspired by “Conan the Barbarian” plus “Andrey Rublev” by Tarkovsky. From “Andrey Rublev” even the scene of the celebration of Ivan Kupala’s day migrated here (it doesn’t matter what this holiday was called then – probably something like “Ragnar Thorstein’s day”), well, nothing more, but the original “Conan the Barbarian” for all its simplicity and primitiveness, perhaps, it will be clearly more fun.
At the same time, the plot of Amlet, the Viking king, is extremely simple and primitive. In addition to the aforementioned plot, we are shown the matured Amlet, who, under cover, made his way to the island of the vile uncle, whom he must kill, for revenge and all that. But first, the conditional Merlin will hand him a magic sword, Amlet with a magic sword will crush most of Fjolnir’s minions into scrambled eggs and sausages, and then the turn will come to dear uncle, clear Odin.
Purely for the entertainment of the most respected viewers, the love story of Amlet with the Russian witch Olga is introduced in a parallel line, so this is not only a film about revenge, which would be too boring, but also about love. However, I note that with love the film does not become less boring – in our opinion with Bublik, of course.
Eggers fully exploits his habitual manner of type as a highly mysterious suggestiveness, with pleasure exposes characters, relishes brutal murders, all sorts of blood, guts, dismemberment and freshly carcass installations, while his characters, like in The Lighthouse, do not forget to fart and burp, but this, of course, is not like in stupid American comedies, but solely in the name of the artistic message and historical accuracy.
With dialogues, the scriptwriters – Eggers and Sion – did not take a steam bath at all. The dialogue is terribly pompous, oaky and bombastic, and some viewers here get the impression that they are watching some kind of high school production – albeit with good actors and a budget of 90 million dollars.
Alexander Skarsgard for the role of Amlet really rocked not like a child, respect to him and respect. I didn’t get to the articles of the then Schwarzenegger-Conan, but few people are capable of this at all. With all his might, he portrays a terribly brutal Viking killer, and, in general, you believe him up to a certain point, but when he began to howl like a wolf and portray, like a berserker’s rage, this, in our opinion with Bublik, looked quite strained. But Skarsgård tried his best, we admit that.
The wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy in the role of Olga did not impress at all, but this is not the actress’s fault, it’s just that the character herself, like almost all the other characters in the film, is written, as they say, with coarse grinding. A cardboard box, not a character, so Anya simply had nothing to play here. But it is clear that she could not refuse Eggers, because the actress was noticed precisely after she played the main role in Eggers’ film “The Witch”.
Nicole Kidman is just some kind of tragedy. If in the series “Play Back” her face, which was pretty polished by plastic surgery, looked at least somehow appropriate – after all, she played a very rich woman in her fifties who could easily resort to the services of plastic surgeons – then for the Viking queen in the late eight hundredth years, it looked somehow extremely inappropriate.
In addition, they tried to add ambiguity to her character by script, and considering how much the scriptwriters can’t get at least some decent dialogues, the scene of the final meeting of the mother with the precious little son Amlet turned out to be so extremely ridiculous, false and mediocre just from all sides that we with the cat Bagel on it, they simply covered their face with their hands, noting that the director did not fail to steal an episode from Hamlet for this scene, where Polonius is hiding behind a tapestry mounted on a stretcher in Gertrude’s room.
But there is also good news. It is said that after filming was completed, several actors received gifts from the set. Nicole Kidman got the sword. Björk got three horses. Alexander Skarsgård received the bloody thong from the film, which he wore during the week that Amleth’s final fight scene with Fjölnir was filmed. And Willem Dafoe got a real real drakkar, as well as an artificial phallus, with which his jester character teased the queen. By the way, Robert Eggers said in an interview that this phallus was one-on-one made from an outstanding instrument of the actor himself. Well, you see, realism and authenticity are very important!
Well, see? So, it was not in vain that they filmed! I also have to praise the throat singing that is howling throughout the film. Throat singing created a certain mood, and I even wanted to get my sysadmin’s jew’s harp to play along with this singing and somehow entertain myself, because watching this green melancholy was unbearably boring, and I reached the end only out of a feeling of the deepest unprofessionalism, because only a professional critic can afford to write a review after viewing several pieces of a picture.
How was this film received? Accepted as expected. Critics are delighted (they are from The Lighthouse, which any ordinary viewer will immediately turn off after ten to fifteen minutes of viewing, because it is absolutely impossible to watch this madhouse, they just wrote from happiness) – this picture has 89% on the RottenTomatoes website (with 64% of viewers ), the box office is completely a failure, but the audience rating on IMDB is as much as 7.6. I gave it a 6.0, but only for throat singing, Alexander Skarsgård’s fitness and the views of Northern Ireland, dear to me.
PS Yes, about half of the film was shot in black and white. Well, it’s just that Eggers at times recalled that this case worked in Mayak, so The Northman also discolored in places. And let’s say thank you that he did not make the frame square, as in “Mayak”. Kudos to him for this. Although many critics, of course, are unhappy with this.
Director: Robert Eggers Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Gustav Lind, Elliott Rose, Willem Dafoe, Phil Martin, Eldar Scar
Budget: $60 million, Global gross: $53 million
Fantasy Action, USA, 2022, 137 min.