We’ve had no shortage of medieval films released in the last year, with films like The Green Knight and The Last Duel standing out as particularly well made. The Northman is arguably unlike any of these, standing head and shoulder above the rest. In my opinion, the film is near perfect: from the writing, to the performance, to the visual style and cinematography, The Northman truly blew me away.
Robert Eggers took great care in showing the audience just how awe inspiring this landscape can be
The narrative is a retelling of an old Scandinavian legend, the story of Prince Amleth, who’s uncle murders Amleth’s father and takes his mother for his wife. As many reviews I have seen seem to misunderstand, this isn’t a retelling of the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but rather a retelling of the story that inspired Hamlet. This isn’t a film set in an impressive yet dreary castle, as is the case with many adaptations of Hamlet, but rather the story is forged around the harsh untamed landscapes of Iceland, and Robert Eggers took great care in showing the audience just how awe inspiring this landscape can be.
The film has an impressively star-studded cast, including Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, as well as an absolutely stellar supporting cast. Alexander Skarsgård (playing the lead role of Amleth) displays an impressive acting range throughout, from moments of tenderness, to a howling bloodthirsty killer, and does so without making the character feel overly inconsistent. Robert Eggers clearly knows how to get a fantastic performance out of Anya Taylor-Joy, as he has done so both with The Witch and now The Northman, her character being not overly dissimilar to the one she played in Eggers’ earlier film.
The Northman is a film that doesn’t shy away from the grim reality of the pillaging lifestyle that was led by those of the time and place it is set
While Eggers has made a name for himself in the horror-sphere, with his brilliant films The Witch and The Lighthouse (which was, until The Northman, my favourite film), The Northman is a step away from overtly directing horror/thriller films, as well as his first film not produced or distributed by A24. The Northman may not be a horror film, as Eggers is known for, but that doesn’t stop it from containing a number of elements common to his other films. There is an undeniable presence of gore and violence throughout, which feels reminiscent of some of the disturbing moments within The Witch or The Lighthouse. We see men slaughtered, corpses fashioned into grotesque statues, women abused, and children burned alive. The Northman is a film that doesn’t shy away from the grim reality of the pillaging lifestyle that was led by those of the time and place it is set.
Another common feature within Eggers’ filmography is absolutely fantastic sound design. In The Lighthouse the entire film is underpinned by the ever present and frankly eerie fog horn. In The Northman, much of the film is scored by the sounds of gravelly throat singing, which may sound strange, but is honestly a really fun time to listen to and works incredibly well in light of the film’s setting and subject matter.
While it may not be for all, considering the level of violence present within it, it is a film I cannot recommend enough
Straying into the area of spoilers now (although the entire plot of the film is laid bare at the beginning by a narrator), the ending is truly phenomenal. The use of an erupting volcano to stage a fight at the Gates of Hel, coupled with the knowledge that Amleth has left his family in order to provide them a future he cannot be part of, makes for a truly powerful ending, and one that satisfies the need for revenge felt throughout the entirety of the film.
Ultimately, I truly believe The Northman is one of the best films to release recently. It has been compared to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator, and I would happily place it up on a pedestal with Scott’s work. While it may not be for all, considering the level of violence present within it, it is a film I cannot recommend enough. Even if you aren’t familiar with Robert Eggers as a director, the fantastic cast alone should do something to convince you of its merit. Couple that with fantastic sound design and awesome visuals, and you have what is quite possibly my new favourite film.