12 things you need to know about The Northman before it pillages cinemas

Whatever direction on the compass you’re coming from, The Northman is a big-screen must-see: the kind of axe-clanging, prophecy-fulfilling, beard-inspiring epic we’ve been waiting for from meticulous horror filmmaker Robert Eggers.

The Northman

Streaming Now

Where his last few movies were spooky chamber period pieces, this star-studded Viking revenge fantasy goes big. You should conquer everything there is to know about its cast, early buzz, and fanatically accurate production design, before The Northman sails into cinemas near you. Hail to Skarsgård, the new King in the North!

1. It might be the most accurate Viking movie we’ve ever seen

The film takes place in 914, in what’s now known as Scotland, Ukraine, and Iceland, and archaeologists from Sweden’s Uppsala University were brought on board to advise on the most niche aspects of Viking culture. Costume designer Linda Muir used historically accurate materials such as nettle fabric, wool from the outer coats of Icelandic sheep, and reindeer leather, in one case patching and repatching a single pair of shoes that Alexander Skarsgård wore throughout the entirety of the shoot to play the vengeful Prince Amleth.

2. …and that’s made the studio pretty nervous

Director Robert Eggers’ previous two films were distributed through artsy powerhouse A24, but The Northman is a Universal production. According to early preview screenings, this thing is dense, artsy, and very committed to its old-world storytelling. “Some audience member wrote: ‘You need to have a master’s degree in Viking history to understand, like, anything in this movie,’” Eggers worried. “Like, ahhh, fuck.”

“Now everyone is kind of, like, ‘If this isn’t Gladiator or Braveheart, we’re fucked’. And the thing is: it isn’t. My best intention of doing Gladiator or Braveheart is still…weirder.” Let your freak flag fly, Rob—we’ve already seen those two other period action movies and are keen for something weirder.

3. Alexander Skarsgård has already played a Viking character named ‘Northman’

In the preposterous, sexy vampire series True Blood, the Swedish star stole our hearts as Eric Northman, a vampire sheriff who was in fact a Swedish Viking warrior thousands of years before the series’ events take place.

Maybe that previous experience has allowed Skarsgård to dig even deeper for this second time as a Northman. Supporting actor Ralph Ineson described the Swede as an “absolute beast” when in character: “he beats this guy in a battle, bends down and rips his throat out with his teeth, screams to the gods and he’s got his shirt off—and you think “my god that’s not a bodybuilder doing a scene, that’s like a proper serious actor!”

4. Skarsgård’s brother Bill was initially cast as, well, Skarsgård’s brother

The Pennywise actor could’ve been great as Prince Amleth’s brother Thorir the Proud, but he had to pass due to coronavirus lockdown scheduling conflicts that arose when production of The Northman got delayed. Instead, Gustav Lindh will play the part.

5. The best actors from The Witch and The Lighthouse are back

Anya Taylor-Joy has become a huge star since Eggers directed her breakout role in The Witch, so it’s only fair that she returns to play witchy woman Olga here. Her parents in The Witch Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson are also back, seemingly keen to get muddied up one more time for Eggers.

Willem Dafoe seems similarly well-cast as gibbering fool Heimir. He was deliciously unhinged in Egger’s last hit The Lighthouse, and whilst Robert Pattinson is sadly too busy Batmanning around to do Eggers another favour, Dafoe should ace any ancient Icelandic chants and prophecies that The Northman throws his way.

6. Eggers co-wrote the script with Icelandic poet Sjón

If you saw the A24 Icelandic chiller Lamb, you’ve already heard some of Sjón’s sweet sweet lyricism: the Reykjavik novelist and performer co-wrote that movie with Valdimar Jóhannsson and now works with Eggers to capture the mythic feel of Amleth’s ancient Viking legend.

With his pen-name translating to “sight”, the writer is also known for being a member of The Sugarcubes, the art-rock band that gave Björk her start, and he’s also penned lyrics for many of the Icelandic songbird’s hits.

7. It’s Björk’s first cinematic role in 17 years

Speaking of Björk, we can’t bloody wait to see her bewitch the big screen again: perfectly cast as the fearsome, soot-streaked Seeress. The alt pop star’s daughter Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney will also make her screen debut here.

You can blame arthouse director and asshole Lars Von Trier for Björk’s camera shyness ever since her Cannes-winning role in his weepy musical Dancer In The Dark. Von Trier allegedly bullied and sexually harassed the singer so much on set that she swore off film acting. The only movie she’s appeared in since then is a 2005 art project with her then-partner, so it only raises our expectations for The Northman more that she would deign to return to the medium of film for Eggers.

8. The story isn’t just inspired by Hamlet…

…it’s inspired by the 10th century Danish story that inspired Hamlet. Check it out, the very name ‘Amleth’ was adapted for the title of Shakespeare’s gloomy tragedy.

If you’ve never watched a performance of Hamlet (or The Lion King), the basic plot is that a melancholic young prince (Skarsgård) learns that his uncle (Dracula‘s Claes Bang) murdered his father (Ethan Hawke), and is now making moves on his mum (Nicole Kidman). The play hangs the question of guilt and murder heavily over its protagonist’s head, but Prince Amleth jumps into vengeance mode pretty quickly and savagely. Good—get the uncle-cide over with.

9. Skarsgård and Our Nicole have played family before in Big Little Lies

Weirdly, the beautiful blonde couple were husband and wife in HBO’s mom-mystery drama. Here they’ll play mother and son, with Nic presumably aged up a bit once Skarsgård’s prince reaches manhood.

What’s even stranger is that Kidman and Skarsgård depicted a horribly abusive marriage in Big Little Lies, and Kidman has previously been victimized by other Skarsgård brother Stellan in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville. Man, our girl can’t catch a break from this damn family…

10. Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe have a great naked scene together

Just because we’re seeking vengeance for murdered family members doesn’t mean we can’t have some rowdy fun. Hawke’s character seems to bite the 8th-century dust early on in the film, but at least we can enjoy him and Daybreakers co-star Dafoe together for a wild and debauched nocturnal moment.

Hawke told GQ that the pair share “one amazing scene. We get naked and do some kind of Viking acid and howl at the moon together. And oh my god, if you have to be naked and howl at the moon, he’s a great person to do it with.”

11. Here’s how to pronounce the main characters name (no lisping allowed)

Sjón and the film’s historical consultants claim that the Viking language rarely if ever utilised the “th” frontal lisp sound, heard at the front of words like “thrift” or “theme”. Instead, you should pronounces the name “Prince Amleth” almost like “amulet”, ignoring the final “h” attached to the word.

This makes Skarsgård’s hero sound even more like his literary descendant “Hamlet”.

12. The movie’s such a big deal, it doesn’t even need a title…

It looks like these glam character posters of The Northman were rushed out without the title slapped on top. That, or there’s so much hype for the film it literally needs no introduction.

The Northman

Streaming Now