Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor Joy, and Willem Dafoe.
Directed By: Robert Eggers
Where I Watched It: Peacock
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: Hamlet. With Vikings. It’s a lot more fun if you think of how closely this follows the plot of The Lion King. Which is also… Hamlet.
What Works: If you pop over to IMDB, you see that in the plot description for the film, you get “From visionary director Robert Eggers”, which is quite a leap there. I guess his third major feature makes him a visionary director worth putting in the plot description for the film. For me, I haven’t seen The Lighthouse, and I didn’t like The Witch (and I hate it even more when people type out The VVitch). But I went into this with an open mind, willing to accept that Robert Eggers is indeed a visionary director. And, he kind of is.
By taking something more people are familiar with, and putting his own spin on it, he actually shows his vision. Instead of taking an original concept and expecting your audience to follow you on your journey, by making a Viking Hamlet film, people saw how he interpreted and reinvented this story for his own purposes and made it his own unique thing. Hence, he can actually be called visionary. He had a vision, and he made it come true.
This is actually what I expected and wanted when i found out that a Coen brother was adapting MacBeth. I expected a Coen Brother version of MacBeth, not just a text translation with some unique imagery. Here, Eggers takes the structure of Hamlet, throws out what he doesn’t need, keeps what he wants, and reshapes the story to fit his needs and his vision. So instead of having a beat-for-beat adaptation of Hamlet, we have something uniquely its own thing. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Ethan Hawke has appeared in a reimagining of hamlet either.
The strengths of this film are in Eggers ability to bring in all the gory and dark bits of the period, not shying away from violence. These men attack with swords, and people will lose their heads, blood will be spilled, and no one is spared. He finds lots of interesting uses for blood throughout the film, and manages to get strong performances from all his cast.
From The Witch to The Northman, I think Robert Eggers has maintained that artistic quality that people love about his works, while also becoming more focused and purposeful in his choices. Would I have made every single choice he did? no. Do i agree with every choice? No. But I’m not Robert Eggers, and I still found this film entertaining even with its flaws.
What Doesn’t Work: Casting. At some point in the process, someone needed to sit down and have this conversation. Nicole Kidman (54( is playing the mother to Alexander Skarsgard (45). It’s stupid. But more so because they just rather famously and to much acclaim played a trouble married couple in Big Little Lies. So, for those of us who saw the gratuitous sex scenes in Big little Lies just a few years ago, it’s pretty hard to believe that she’s his mother. It was something I couldn’t shake, and it’s something really that every casting director should always be aware of. I don’t care how committed Eggers was to this casting, his choice was wrong. Find a new mother, or find a new male lead. And, to that regard, Anya Taylor joy is 26, and ends up being the love interest to Skarsgard. That’s a 19 year age gap. Where Kidman isn’t feasibly old enough to have birthed Skarsgard, he actually is old enough to have fathered joy, yet in this male directed film, he’s paired with a love interest young enough to be his daughter, while an actress who played his wife now plays his mother. Casting. This film doesn’t work because of casting.
It would have made more sense to find a younger actor who wasn’t Skarsgard, putting him closer to joy’s age, and also giving us someone who hasn’t had sex with the actress playing his mother. Not literally of course, just on screen sex. It’s this kind of casting that gets made by men, who believe men can have it all. They can have a love interest that is 19 years younger, and also appear opposite someone they’ve shared bedroom scenes with. to them, that’s not weird at all. Do you think a female lead would have had a male love interest 19 years younger than her, while playing the daughter to someone she had just played the wife to? Not likely.
Aside from the casting, the pacing on this film was weird. This clearly doesn’t need to be a 2:17 film, because the pacing is erratic. Sometimes, it runs at a breakneck pace, then it screeches to a halt and just sits in the drama, before sprinting forward again into action. At times, this film didn’t just remind me of The Lion King, but also films like The Green Knight and Gladiator. There just are choices being made here that seem like they’ve been made before. Although, having us stop everything so we can watch a game of Viking Quidditch was both oddly entertaining and unnecessary. Sometimes it can be both.
The Blind Perspective: So, I complain a lot about these streaming services not wanting us to watch credits anymore. And Peacock just gave the biggest “fuck you” to the production team behind The Northman I’ve ever seen. I got at the end, The Northman, Directed By Robert Eggers… and then i was ripped out and thrown into another thing. It was a TV show about Vikings, I think. I didn’t get the cast, the producers, the director of photography, nothing. No audio description. I don’t know who wrote the score. Peacock just raised that middle finger and was more worried about losing my train of thought, or something. God forbid someone actually want to watch the credits. Even if there was a button to stop this from happening (which my screen reader doesn’t alert me to its existence if it does), ripping me out after Directed By seems like you don’t have enough time to make that choice. So I don’t know who did the audio description, and The ADNA also doesn’t know.
But, the audio description here really helped to shape this experience, from all the gore and violence, to choices like wearing wolf skins, interesting choices of what to do with blood, rotting corpses, exploding volcanos, and that weird game they played. The one note I have, might not even be a thing. There were times where the foreign language spoken occasionally got translated, and times when it wasn’t. I fully accept that this is a thing in real life, where sometimes there aren’t subtitles to something not in English. like it’s a choice for us to not understand what’s being said. And maybe that’s the case. i don’t know, because I can’t see the subtitles. However, if this was a case where the ball was dropped, I’m just pointing it out.
Final Thoughts: Way better than I expected, considering how I feel about The Witch. But, the casting choices really bothered me in every sequence. I never took it seriously, that mother and son relationship. Add to that, some odd pacing choices, and it falls just a little short of winding up on my “Best of” list. I still recommend it,for many reasons, but it could have been perfect. It was close.
Final Grade: B+