Seriously, Which Century? A review on Northmen: A Viking Saga

Now, Kiera is our resident Norse specialist, however who doesn’t love an occasional Viking? Especially when they cross the sea to raid my beloved Anglo-Saxon monastic houses. I, like many other people, watch the History Channel show VIKINGS with a mixture of love and academic disdain. However as an archaeologist the TV show doesn’t repulse me as much as say The Tudors (so many anachronisms for which JRM and Natalie Dormer can only compensate so much for). So when I saw that there was this new movie with Australia’s very own Ryan KwantenNorthmen: A Viking Saga I thought – hey! shouldn’t be too shabby!

Oh Boy Was I WRONG!

I will not pretend to have ever vaguely stepped near the film studies department, so excuse the lack of appropriate jargon, but from an early medieval perspective I feel like I’m justified in my comments. The special effects and cinematography are however pretty good, the landscape is stunning. That is pretty much where the niceties stop. This is clearly a bad attempt to ride on the coattails of the TV Show’s success.

The Teaser Trailer seemed promising with its ON (Old Norse)/Swedish/German (please someone tell me I’m not good with Germano-Scandinavian languages, but I think its German?) voice over, but then sadly it just lets you down.

Let’s start with the ending because I found it utterly unsatisfying (SPOILER ALERT), they escape from the large Scottish army (let’s not even go there right now) by jumping off the cliffs (yeah right! but I’ll give them leeway for allowable film dramatics). Ok fine, great, they’re now meant to sail to the Danelaw and seek help from fellow Northmen, cool, ok great; then there’s a moment where you think the built up sexual tension between the two leads – Asbjorn and Inghean might finally be resolved… NOPE it just ends. They’re in a dingy in the North Sea and that’s it. Presumably we’re meant to get a sequel, but let’s be honest it probably won’t happen. So that’s all unresolved and disappointing.

Asbjorn and Inghean (source: moviepilot.com)

Now let’s get to our hero and heroine, an outlawed Norse warrior and a Scottish Princess in presumably the 9th-11th centuries sometime, likely to be the 9th century by the look they’re going for. Overall they’re very vague with their dateable references. One thing that annoyed me was their continual references to Lindisfarne. Firstly they make it appear like that’s the only historical reference the filmmakers have even tried to look at about the Viking raids, and secondly like that’s the only monastery worth raiding or the only one that was raided, and somehow magically replenished its wealth and riches and didn’t try to defend itself after each new attack… blergh!

But back to Asbjorn and Inghean! This film magically skirts over the language barrier issue with a mere “either I learnt Scottish or this little bird is tweeting our language”. Why would a Scottish royal speak Old Norse? And more specifically a woman who isn’t in a religious order, but even then why Old Norse? What impresses me most about Vikings this season is the clear communication issues between the Saxon and the Norsemen with actual dialogue in both OE and ON or in one and the other speaking English, often with Athelstan translating – its great!

This movie just goes with the idea that the monk Connall (who is himself of dubious ethnic background, is he a scot? not by his accent, he’s presumably a Saxon, but this seems really iffy) is a learned man and is therefore automatically multi-lingual. In this story he interacts with the Scots, the Picts and the Norse, plus the presumed Latin – what a multi-talented monk! The Norse are of course ignorant and only speak their own tongue, but it is unclear if the Wolves (mercenaries of the Scottish high King Dunchaid – our heroine’s father) are talking ON to our outlawed Vikings or if everyone is just reading the tone and body language… or more likely that the filmmakers forgot that everyone isn’t meant to be speaking the same language. Now everyone likes a cross-cultural star-crossed lovers type of scenario, but this is ridiculous and poorly developed. Not to mention that we don’t really have any idea if we’re dealing with the Dal Riadan Scots or the later kingdom of Alba right now, how important/rich is Inghean? Her father’s wish for her to be killed or retrieved certainly confuses the matter.

There is just SO much wrong with this film both historically and with the story development/establishment. Dunchaid seems to be operating within a system the filmmakers have created using the Irish high-King system and the later kingdom of Alba. The best hint of what on earth is happening is on the movie’s website where under Connall’s character profile you can see that Alba exists, the Scots do too and so do the Picts, and its all very confuzzled. Dunchaid if he’s based off anyone at all is probably Duncan I (Macbeth’s rival in Shakespeare’s play). But everyone else appears to be completely new constructs. Inghean for instance is described as Dunchaid’s only child, which historically she wouldn’t have been (and as far as I know she isn’t ever mentioned in documentary sources). My issue with it now is that if Dunchaid is Duncan I (however loosely) and we are dealing with Alba then the setting is the 11th century… well I give up.
I could go on and on about what annoyed me both academically and personally about this film, but as I suspect as readers your patience with reading my rant will only go so far let me leave you with this – really what this movie is about is Bromance and Broship (or as Amy may put it homosocial relationships), with lots of killing, everyone miraculously speaking Old Norse (which sounds a lot like English) and who knows what century its meant to be in? Seriously which century?

Note from Kiera: The protagonist, Asbjorn, is running from Harald Finehair who reigned from c. 872 to 930, so we can only assume it is set in late 9th century or early 10th century.

3 comments

  1. Kim Litzow

    I am a HUGE Vikings fan, I can’t count how many times I have watched every single episode, of every season. I love Ragnar, Lagertha, Bjorn, and Rollo….and will literally cry when they kill off Ragnar. I am very much aware of the historical context, being a student of history. But, still love it! And, I feel similarly about this film. I am so happy just to have more Viking material to watch…and have been a fan of Tom Hopper since I first saw him in Merlin.And, danced the jig when he returned on Black Sails(though I predicted that his character (Billy Bones) was not dead, and would return). Anyway, despite all the criticism of the film, it’s historical setting, etc…..I still loved it. I hope there is a sequel, whether it makes it to the U.S., or not. The scenery, and the characters, made it well worth watching to my Viking loving heart. I only wish some of the other characters had not died. But, that would make it unbelievable to critics. When it comes out in the US, I will go see it multiple times, and drag my family with me(my youngest son is 19, so no reason to get bent out of shape of what kind of mother would take her kids to such a violent film. I didn’t let them see Spartacus when that show came out. Though I watched it 100 times. Kim

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  2. William Boring

    Could mean Harold Hardrada? The battle of Stamford bridge 1066 the Viking army had 300 ships and fought Harold the anglo Saxon king. The vikings were defeated then The English army marched over 1/3 the length if England and fought another Norse army that spoke French they were the desendants of Rollo the Viking who made a deal with the king of France not to plunder but to have all the country coastline of France William the bastard fought Harold at Hastings the same year and a few days after Harolds victory over Harold Hardrada the Viking King.

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