“Vikings” – New History Channel Series

VikingsThorNews is happy that finally a “Viking-series” that seems promising is produced. Two episodes of the nine-part TV series (Season 1) have now premiered on the History Channel.

“Vikings” has been criticized by Norwegian historians due to some historical inaccuracies – among others that the Vikings are portrayed as “grey highway robbers” when in fact they liked to wear expensive, bright colored clothes and beautiful jewelry.

The series has received good reviews in the U.S. – here by Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe:

 

‘Vikings’: History casts a spell

Creator:              Michael Hirst (“The Tudors,” “The Borgias,” and “Camelot.”)

Stars:                   Travis Fimmel, Clive Standen, Katheryn Winnick

It’s a little strange to “like” the new History channel series “Vikings,” which is set in the Dark Ages. The Norse hero of “Vikings” is a forward-thinking pillager who decides to break tradition and go west to wealthy Great Britain, rather than east to Russia, to do his brutal raiding. By the end of episode 2 of this nine-part series, we’ve seen him and his boatload of crusty savages massacre the population of a monastery off the coast of England and steal their gold icons. Plus, the guy has a mohawk that even a professional wrestler would scorn.

But I like “Vikings,” History’s first foray into scripted episodic series after the huge success of the scripted miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys.” It’s flawed, with the kinds of cheesy trappings and historical freedoms that turn off some viewers. The show, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., falls loosely into the love-it-or-hate-it category of heated-up period dramas such as “The Tudors,” “The Borgias,” and, most of all, “Spartacus.” Not surprisingly, “Vikings” is the creation of Michael Hirst, whose credits include “The Tudors,” “The Borgias,” and “Camelot.” The guy knows his way around torch-lit basements, milords, and their lusty lasses.

But the series is nonetheless transporting in its way, largely because it doesn’t try too hard to soften or civilize the characters. It’s 793 AD and they are barbarians living in dirt and steeped in superstition. Travis Fimmel plays Ragnar Lothbrok, who feels he’s connected to the Norse god Odin and born to discover new worlds. The local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) is set in his ways and insists his raiders go east; “There are no lands to the west,” he yells, when Ragnar suggests the west. “You are a farmer, you should be content with your lot.” Ragnar promptly ignores his boss, gathers a group, including his macho brother Rollo (Clive Standen), leaves behind his wife and children, and goes to sea.

(Article continues below)

Vikings History Channel

Rowing ensues.

Fimmel, from Australia, is a one-time Calvin Klein model, which makes him an easy target for ridicule. I was impressed, though, by his transformation. His skin is blemished, his eyes are weary, and he doesn’t rely on sexy eyes as he becomes the smirky nonconformist leader. He showed a lot of promise in the short-lived series “The Beast,” in which he costarred beside Patrick Swayze, and he continues to impress here despite some accent issues. His scenes with Katheryn Winnick, who plays his wife, Lagertha, are tinged with comedy, particularly when they fight. She is a warrior who likes to give a good wallop every now and then.

Byrne’s Earl is fixated on maintaining his own power, and he is threatened by Ragnar’s ambition. Looking a bit like Liam Neeson in “Rob Roy,” with long stringy hair, Byrne brings an effective sense of menace to the series. At one point, he invites a servant to sleep with his wife, Siggy (a fantastically cagey Jessalyn Gilsig), then has him punished when he moves to take advantage of the offer. They make a wonderfully horrible couple, Byrne and Gilsig, and complicated, too, since much of their awfulness is fueled by grief.

Ragnar needs to watch out for them, as well as for Rollo, who isn’t at ease with his brother’s growing influence. He’s a snake. But while his blood brother is jealous of him, Ragnar develops a brotherly relationship with a monk, Athelstan (George Blagden), whom he has taken as a slave. Ragnar is an inquisitive man with an eye toward innovations; his wish to travel to unchartered waters is based on his fascination with a newfangled “sun board” navigation device. Ragnar lets Athelstan live because he is curious about Athelstan’s God.

The show is well-designed, with gorgeous and yet cold landscapes that aren’t particularly inviting. The title sequence, too, is beautifully made and haunting. At times, some of the tools of war appear too new and shiny to convince, but, fortunately, not new enough to break the spell.

 

Watch the trailer:

Text by: Thor Lanesskog

Photos by: The History Channel

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Categories: Culture, Film & TV, Vikings

5 replies

  1. God Dag All,

    After watching the very first showing here in the states —- well what can one say? Speaking as one who is of Norsk lineage I wish the producers had selected actors from Norge og Danmark to be key players. Why NOT?!

    Most have excellent English Language skills and furthermore, the Norsk accents would have added far more richness to the series. Instead, we are left feeling to a degree that we are watching perhaps another installment of the TUTORS?

    We will have to let the gods judge the fate of this series. On the other hand, the producers could wise up and make amends before its too late.

    Takk to all,

    • My name is Gisle Andre Ulvøy and I am an Norwegian living in Norway as so have my family line been for as long as anyone knows. Vikings, the series I think is a pretty good tv-show this far. But yes, I see people mentioning unrealistic things within the series. I agree with them but not totally. Maybe some haircuts for-example to make some charachter look more appealing to the audience but that`s nothing. Lots we don`t know historically wise speaking about my ancestors the vikings. Sure there are more things we have knowledge of how it was in the real time period that the series do not cover realisticly.

      But in total I like-love the series so far. Some things though. I think the History channel could accomplish and are moneywise in a position to is to use the landscape and the fjords from where this really took place. Different fjords ond so on for the filmatic beauty and diversity for the viewer. The same shot on repeat it seems when wieving fjords, landscapes etc.They could have filmed some of the series in Norway for example.About the language-issue. It`s difficult to manage. But it would be cool and made wievers living themselves more into the happening and forgetting about everything else. A would pick out the film Apocolypto directed by Mel Gibson as a perfect example. The language makes it more intense and you feel you are there – in place and time. But fuck all of that.

      I say 2 thumbs up for this series – the best film-series or anything like that made about Vikings so far atleast. We will see…what is yet to come.

  2. Hei alle sammen!

    I thought the same thing, couldn’t they get some Norwegian actors? And is it me, or are they trying to make it a little too much like “The Tudors” with all the intrigue and backstabbing and conniving? I’d prefer a more straightforward warrior mindset. Frankly I thought the portrayal of the Vikings in “The 13th Warrior” seemed a little more on the mark, as they say. But still, I’ll watch it. We don’t get enough about our Viking ancestors that’s anywhere close to truth.

    Hilsen,
    DD

  3. I like the cast and feel that the way language is presented to the point represents the norse thought process. I am a norseman and could care less where the actors are from . It wouldnt surprise me if they have norse lineage as do many from all parts of the world.Happy to see this program .
    Takk,
    Tor M

  4. I have seen part one and was disappointed. I expected something more historically accurate, having read many books on the Vikings and on Norse culture, having lived in Scandinavia and seen places like Birka. The History Channel let me down again, this time with a poorly constructed ‘drama’ that doesn’t convince me of the time period it is trying to portray. And what’s with the fake “Scandinavian” accents? I realize that old Norse is gone, but couldn’t they speak Icelandic, which is fairly close (if you take out some modern slang and vocabulary)? Watching this epic yawn, I felt *I* could have done a better job at creating a show, if I had the money and time to do so. This series is a JOKE.

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