Following on from the acclaim of his offbeat efforts The Witch and The Lighthouse, writer and director Robert Eggers returns on an epic scale with a big budget for his third feature The Northman. Based upon the same medieval Scandi legend that inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet, this historical blockbuster tells the tale of Prince Amleth, played with an animalistic heft by a bulked-up Alexander Skarsgård. When King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is brutally murdered by his brother (Claes Bang), who then proceeds to kidnap Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), it sets up a Viking revenge saga as the protagonist vows to avenge his father, save his mother, and to kill his uncle Fjölnir.
We quite often see exciting indie talents take on studio films, only to have their artistic vision diluted by the commercialism that comes with that territory. Eggers is a recent exception to this pattern, as this bare-bones narrative hits an accessible sweet spot between holding the note of his distinctive cinematic voice whilst also appealing to mainstream audiences. Collaborating with Icelandic poet Sjón in crafting the script, there’s an authenticity to the writing that’s further enhanced by impeccable production detail. There’s a rich, otherworldly feel to the visuals which oozes directorial flair, furthering his reputation as one of our most interesting contemporary auteurs.
In keeping with the culture and the period, there’s an abundance of grunt-heavy, ultra-violent bro vs bro testosterone on display throughout the plot. However, this isn’t at the expense of the presence of well written female characters. Kidman has a pivotal part to play in how the story unfolds, subverting gender role expectations and leaning into the Nordic eccentricities of the piece. There’s also an excellent supporting turn from Anya Taylor-Joy, who repays Eggers for giving her a breakthrough role in his debut with a vital turn that threatens to steal the film. Her portrayal of Olga of the Birch Forest has an ethereal quality but with a cunning edge, the brains to Amleth’s brawn on their unrelenting quest for vengeance. There are short cameo appearances from Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, and Willem Dafoe, all reuniting with the director; perhaps a sign of things to come in the consistency of he calls upon amongst his cast and crew to establish the very specific tone he conceives through his work.
Splashing his well-earned creative currency on a grandiose pagan pagger, Robert Eggers is visibly growing in confidence and The Northman only strengthens his stature. With just the right amount of weird, it’s an ambitious, almighty feat of filmmaking that sacrifices none of the visionary director’s mythical madness.