The Northman

I remember just enough about Shakespeare to wonder if this movie was based on Hamlet. After all, a young prince vows revenge for the death of his father the king at the hands of his vengeful uncle. 

But no, Hamlet was written in about 1600, and this film springs from the Scandinavian Legend of Amleth at least four hundred years earlier, so it appears that Shakespeare was the one who borrowed from history. All the same murderous villainy applies.


When the young Viking prince Amleth, played as an adult by Sweden’s Alexander Skarsgard witnesses his father’s murder, he dedicates his life to vengeance, engaging in a sort of Viking cross-fit that develops bodybuilder abs and shoulders. His role in 2016’s The Legend of Tarzan was his prior motivation to get ripped.

His mother, Nicole Kidman’s Queen Gudrún is taken captive by Uncle Fjölnir The Brotherless, played by Claes Bang. Or has she? At this point, Ethan Hawke as King Aurvandil War-Raven exits the script, but not before mentoring the prince in a creepy rite of passage overseen by a costumed shaman, channeling his wolfen spirit animal.


Amleth’s mantra is revisited throughout the film:


            “I will avenge you father,

            I will save you mother,

            I will kill you Fjölnir”


He spends time in a trance-like “berserker” state during battle scenes that aren’t for the squeamish. Later, sneaking onto a slaveship bound for Iceland (actually Ireland), he eventually proves himself worth saving, but never equal, to the masters within his uncle’s village.


Director Robert Eggers had a fanatical attention to detail in sets, costuming, rituals and mythic elements that created an immersive Viking experience for the audience. Even Iceland’s own Bjork got to play the part of a Seeress, directing Amleth in his quest.


The life-altering plot twist for Amleth won’t be revealed here, but an epic hand-to-hand battle with his uncle ensues against a Hellish volcanic backdrop of flowing lava, the “lake of fire.”


Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) brings her widely spaced eyes to the gloomy medieval setting, speaking quite a bit of Old Norse, more of Eggers attention to detail.


“Research and gore” is how one critic summarized The Northman. It is fortunate that this sensory experience doesn’t include the olfactory. This was undoubtedly an extraordinarily stinky time.



The Northman (2022) runs 2 hours 17 minutes and is rated R.


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