Review – Two Cinematic Viking Sagas

I watched a couple of Viking-themed films on Netflix over the weekend, both were entertaining productions in their own ways.

Northmen – A Viking Saga is a fairly straightforward ‘band of disparate people thrown together battling against the odds’. In this case shipwrecked outcasts, a princess, and a warrior priest.

Led by Tom Hopper (Billy Bones from the brilliant Black Sails) this was fun, competent, and action-packed, with occasional mordant humour. Everyone played their parts with conviction as the brave band is slowly whittled down to a core of battle-hardened survivors. Everyone who distrusted or disliked each other resolved their problems in appropriate and satisfactory manly or romantic ways, and the bad guys were jolly bad and had sufficient reason for being so. There was even a rope bridge over a yawning chasm.

This sounds like it’s saga-by-the-numbers and while it’s by no means an original tale it’s an entertaining if undemanding take on the themes and I liked it.

Viking Destiny (aka Of Gods and Warriors) was an interesting surprise, I expected less and received more. The daughter of a murdered king fights to reclaim her legacy. I’m probably being unfair but while watching I thought it was a kind of live-action Brave. It’s not, it’s far more brutal and imaginative, and goes to unexpected places. Terence Stamp cameos a rather gnomic Odin, while Murray McArthur as Loki feels like he’s riffing strongly (and gloriously) off Nicol Williams’ Merlin from Excalibur. Anna Demetriou’s princess hero is suitably conflicted, tough, and competent with a bastard sword. And, as it turns, out, with a severed head in a spiked cage.

Despite the Norse gods this is not a viking story, far more a sub-Arthurian adventure that at times almost felt like a very high-budget role-play. Conceptually it’s a far more ambitious film than Northmen, which did what it did rather well but kept itself bounded by a standard narrative. Anachronisms abound (way too much lippy), and reach often exceeded grasp though in the right circumstances for me that can be admirable and very forgiveable. Nevertheless there was a mythic, fairy-tale vibe that I enjoyed, a decent script, and a surprisingly good supporting cast. I liked this as much for what it was trying to be as for what it was, and this made it my favourite of the two.

If you watch either of these I hope you enjoy them. Bring beer & snacks. Let me know.

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