The Northman


‘…a mighty, nasty-ass epic of treachery, pagan horror and bloody revenge…’

Not a remake of the 1978 Lee Majors tv movie The Norseman that I’d been hoping for, The Northman turns out to be the third feature by Robert Eggers, and one that’s eagerly awaited by serious cineastes with a taste for the outre. Eggers spawned a breakout hit with The Witch, which was an intense slow-burn that horror audiences seemed to adore, even if it took a long time to get to the expected supernatural conclusion. Occult beliefs also featured in The Lighthouse, in which Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe wrestled with some kind of malignant entity which may have been their own sexuality, mermaids, or both. From there, it was only a matter of time before someone gave him a wodge of cash and encouraged Eggers to express himself on a grand scale.

And The Northman is grand; Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth, a Viking who seeks to revenge his father when his uncle murders Amleth’s dad and marries Amleth’s mother Gudrun (Nicole Kidman). Wait, what? Doesn’t this sound like the story of Hamlet, who seeks to revenge his father when his uncle murders his dad and marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude? Of course, Shakespeare didn’t invent the story that Hamlet is based on, and The Northman seeks to trace a literary classic back to its roots in Norse history. So there’s tonnes of elements here that surprise; this Hamlet isn’t a scholar but a ruthless Viking who kills dispassionately as an automatic response to danger. Amleth throws his lot in with a big-cheese sorceress named Olga of the Birch Forest (Aya-Taylor Joy) as he seeks to bust apart the court of Fjolnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang) and revenge his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) as he seeks to ‘cut the thread of fate’ that binds them.

As the above synopsis describes, The Northman is an all-star fantasy epic, usually the formula for a good/bad movie in the mould of the Conan movies that are a point of inspiration here; you’ve certainly never seen such emphatic beheadings in your puff. But Eggers elevates everything with a steely grasp of narrative, great performances from a game cast, and a series of striking, Bruegel-esque images that shock and surprise. Taking inspiration as much from Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev as from any comic book, Eggers fashions a world of ravens, Valkyries, witches, volcanoes and Bjork as a seer-ess. Skarsgård was born to play this kind of muscle-bound, troubled hero, but Kidman in particular shines as his maternal adversary; she’s been on an upswing in film (Destroyer, Aquaman, Being the Ricardos) and tv (Nine Perfect Strangers, The Undoing, Big Little Lies) that defies the notion that women don’t get many good roles after they pass 50.

Eggers is a major, visionary talent, and even if his film doesn’t have the obvious commercial appeal of some other more user-friendly epics, it’s a beautiful, compelling and often fascinating film that tells a familiar story in an original way; The Northman is a mighty, nasty-ass epic of treachery, pagan horror and bloody revenge. No excuses will be accepted; seeing The Northman early, and in cinemas, is the only sensible option for those who love their films dark and dangeous….

Out now in the UK, only in US theaters from April 22nd 2022. See



TW: #TheNorthman


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  1. Nope. Found it shallow and derivative and with occult notions beyond any sense. Your hero is hung from the rafters and somehow someone – not necessarily the hero who doesn’t appear to have occult powers – can call on ravens to peck away at the rope to free him. Oh, and someone just handily discarded a sword in the vicinity. Oh, and he can’t kill said father until the moon is green or similar tosh so the movie just goes on and on. No idea how this cost $90 million – it’s not on the screen – at best a top-of-the-range direct-to-video blood-and-slaughter picture. I liked The Witch but a bigger budget has not done him any favours and I always wince when someone is described as a “visionary director.”

    • I think you’ll dig this big time, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again; A25 style horror and mysticism yoked to a Conan-level fantasy adventure; what’s not to like?

  2. It’ll be soon released in France (early days of May) and I can’t wait to go. The spirit of Conan seems very close and I like it. May Odin walk with that Northman.
    Thanx for the review.

    • Oh yes, this one is right up your street! Hallucinations, magic, landscapes, witchcraft, myths and legends galore! Don’t miss it!

  3. Just looking at your main page now I have Neeson and Skarsgard both glowering at me. Who glowers best?

    I’m sure I’ll see this, though Vikings don’t much interest me. I seem to remember Valhalla Rising being a disappointment a while back. Also Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman strike me as having very, very modern faces and I have trouble imagining them being convincing in this setting.

    • I like how Valhalla set out, but it got a bit lost in the mists as it went on. But that’s a good jumping off point for this, which is certainly a strong evocation of a culture that’s rarely worked in cinema. The all-star cast seemed potentially hokey to me, but Hawke and Kidman are both terrific in this; the atmosphere is so strong that you never question them at all. I wasn’t enthused going in, but The Northman is a good as everyone and their dog says it is.

      Is Colin Firth not glowering at you too?

        • Look, it’s not my job to get into these pictures and cheer people up. These are publicity pictures, I don’t get to dictate the expressions on their faces.

          • Well you said you’d try and rustle up some Care Bears and Smurfs for Booky. I don’t think the Bears glower.

            The trailer for this look really dull, to be honest. I’ll dial my expectations down and hope for the best.

            • Nope, you should RAISE your expectations. You liked things about The Witch and The Lighthouse; I think this is a fuller film than both of these. prepare to be impressed.

              I made up that care Bears vs Smurfs film to try and please Booky, you know how it is, but sadly no such film exists. Sorry.

  4. What about those who prefer their movies light and fluffy? Does the main character at any point breakout into a song that is easily remembered and sung by children?

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