The tale of Amleth (played wonderfully here by Alexander Skarsgård) could be called Shakespearian.
The tale of Amleth, or the legend that inspired it, was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Titled “The Northman” in this Robert Eggers version, the two stories have much in common.
Eggers is both a researcher and a filmmaker. His movies “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” were based on writings from the eras in which they were set. He wrote this one with the Icelandic poet Sjón to create an accurate depiction of Viking life.
“The Northman” is one of the most violent movies you ever will see.
The tale is set just before 930 A.D. We meet Amleth as a boy whose father (Ethan Hawke) initiates him as a prince in a ceremony conducted by a shaman (played by an unrecognizable Willem Dafoe.)
Soon afterward, the boy sees his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) kill his father and carry off his mother (Nicole Kidman.)
The boy runs away, and is said to be dead. But Amleth survives on his rage, and vows to avenge his father, kill his uncle and save his mother.
Amleth grows into a strong, violent brute, killing almost at will while he wanders. After he discovers his uncle and mother now live in Iceland, he poses as a slave to reach them.
He is befriended by a woman slave, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch”) whom he meets aboard a slave ship.
It wouldn’t be fair to tell you the rest of it. Although it is not a fantasy, it does involve fortunes being told – I was reminded a couple of times of The Weird Sisters – and ritual, as well as a magical sword.
The performances, not surprisingly, are superlative, and so are the visuals. Watch the details in the objects and the extras who populate the environments. Eggers has created a stunning, harsh world.
This isn’t an easy film to watch. But it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
3 ½ stars
Running time: Two hours and 17 minutes.
Rated: R for foul language, nudity, sexual situations and graphic violence.
At Cinemark, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine.
Watch the trailer here.