Oct 052017
Alfred the Great

Rating: ★★½☆☆
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only film about Alfred the Great, and it is a disappointment. For a movie with numerous battles, the fight choreography is surprisingly weak. The film avoids a glossy portrayal of the period, and Alfred is genuinely unlikeable, vain and abusive towards his wife. Although the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok led the Danish invasion of England, the script ignores the Lothbrok dynasty, highlighting instead Guthrum, a later leader. Since the script focuses mainly on Alfred’s struggle to choose between the Church and the defence of the kingdom, there is little time left for political complexities. A slapstick comedy without the humor, Alfred the Great fails to explain the role played by Alfred in the creation of England. Read More…

Aug 172017
The Last Kingdom Season Two

The focus in season two moves north to show what has been happening while Uhtred has been keeping Wessex safe for Saxons. Having driven the Danes out of southern England, Alfred wants order, Christianity and an end to Viking rule in Northumbria. Drawn into Alfred’s schemes, Uhtred makes Guthred, a Dane, king of all of Northumbria, both Dane and Saxon. Many mean, nasty people are killed along the way. Meanwhile, Uhtred continues to make life hard for himself, worsened by Alfred’s admission that he does not trust his pagan warlord, leaving Wessex less prepared when the next wave of gold-hungry Vikings arrives, led by the brothers Erik and Sigfried. Read More…

Jul 272017
Vikings Season Four

In a season filled with betrayals, plotting, a mid-life crisis and drug addiction, Ragnar Lothbrok’s story finally comes to its end, enabling his sons to step into the spotlight and invade England. Despite my restrained and much deserved criticism of the many idiocies in the plot, I have to say that the battle scenes on Vikings are awesome. Along with Travis Fimmel’s portrayal of Ragnar, they make the show worth watching, but they are brief islands of pleasure within an overall plot that lacks both any logic or connection to historical reality. I used to enjoy Vikings and looked forward to new episodes. Now, it’s something I watch while doing my ironing. Read More…

Mar 302017
The Vikings

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The fearsome Viking Ragnar Lothbrok kills the king of Northumbria and rapes his queen, who gives birth to a son, who is sent away because he threatens the rule of the current king, but the child is enslaved by Ragnar. The young slave’s life changes when an exiled Northumbrian noble realizes he is the rightful heir to the throne. Stunning scenery does not distract from gaping plot holes. Did someone spill coffee on the only copy of the script, it feels like parts are missing. Aside from the many enjoyable scenes of drinking and tests of strength, it is not a great movie. Read More…

Nov 172016
The Last Kingdom-Season One

Based on the historical novel series The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, the series examines the Danish conquest of England from the perspective of Uhtred Ragnarson, a Saxon raised by Danes, who finds himself fighting for King Alfred of Wessex against the Great Heathen Army, a massive Danish army, which invaded England in 866 AD. The show’s greatest weakness is its portrayal of the Viking invaders as moderately bright thugs, rather than ruthless but skilled political operators. Still, it is an interesting examination of the time before there was an England, presenting a nation-building process that was bloody and not guaranteed. Read More…

Mar 242016
Vikings Season Three

Showrunner Michael Hirst seems to have taken all of the names of historical figures from a couple of centuries and thrown them into a hat. Every season, he draws several names and writes a plot around them. It is entertaining, but we left accuracy town a long time ago. However, Vikings is a brilliant case study of a family of psychotic conquerors, and Season Three has enough betrayals to satisfy even the most discerning connoisseur. Read More…

Oct 082015
The Last Kingdom Trailer

Yet another historical series starts this week. Although the two shows are on different networks, The Last Kingdom is a kind of sequel to Vikings, which presents the adventures of Ragnar Lodbrok, since Ragnar’s sons lead the initial invasion that conquers all of England, except for Wessex. Alfred, king of Wessex and a devoted Christian, is determined to drive the pagan Vikings out of England and unify the kingdoms into a single English nation. Despite his fierce faith, Alfred has a frail body, so he reluctantly relies on Uhtred Ragnarson, a Saxon who was raised by Danes, to lead his armies. Mistrusted by most Saxons because he openly worships the Norse gods, Uhtred struggles as much with his own loyalties as with his many enemies. Read More…

Aug 272015
Vikings Season Two

Swiftly resolving the conflict between Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), the second season explores England as Ragnar comes into contact with Wessex, the most powerful English kingdom. At the same time, he also has to deal with repeated betrayals from his allies. Coming into his stride, Travis Fimmel creates a spellbinding if unlikeable alpha male. While Ragnar is fascinating to watch, it seems like showrunner Michael Hirst is just settling for a crowd-pleasing version of the Sopranos with boats and beards. Read More…

Feb 272014
Vikings Season Two Trailer

In the first season, Ragnar Lodbruk (Travis Fimmel) became the first Viking to reach England, finding a wonderful place where the locals conveniently store their gold in houses of worship guarded by unarmed men who pray to a dead god. After defeating his rival, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), Ragnar should have been satisfied, but while performing a mission for King Horik (Donal Logue), he was seduced by Princess Aslaug, and his ambitious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) was seduced by Horik’s rival. It appears that this season will deal with two issues: the brothers will resolve their differences, presumably with sharp objects, and Ragnar will have to reconcile two families. While squabbling Vikings expressing their feelings by trying to kill each other will undoubtedly be entertaining, I am looking forward to Ragnar’s new English opponent, King Egbert of Wessex, the most powerful of the English kingdoms. Read More…

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Jun 272013
Vikings Season One

The History Channel’s new show Vikings presents the exploits of Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), who was the first Viking to raid England, discovering a wonderful place where the inhabitants conveniently store their silver and gold in remote buildings protected by unarmed men who pray to a dead god. One would think that Ragnar would return to a hero’s welcome, but Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) resents a rival and schemes against him. Haraldson is needed as a villain since without him, Ragnar would be a brave explorer who goes to other countries that never did him any wrong, and kills their soldiers, steals their valuables, and takes people away as slaves. While the series whitewashes the thuggish side of the Vikings, it does pay tribute to the bravery of men who sailed in unknown waters to find a new land, not knowing if there actually was a land to the west. The Vikings are contemptuous of the Christians because their God seems unable to protect them. The religious aspect is critical, since otherwise it is just another cable show about tough men who live by their own moral code but are essentially bandits, stealing from those too weak to defend themselves. While the cast, especially Fimmel, are sufficiently charismatic, showrunner Michael Hirst’s writing slips in the second half of the season, as he appears to recycle themes from his previous show The Tudors. Read More…

Mar 142013

History Channel’s new series Vikings has just started, and it looks good so far. To be honest, it is worth watching just for the introduction of early navigation and shipbuilding techniques. The second episode shows the terror of being lost in the mist in the middle of the ocean with no idea of which direction is land, or if there even is land nearby. The lead character, Ragnar Lothbrok, is a famous Norse hero, and Travis Fimmel plays him as a visionary driven to find new lands and kill and loot their inhabitants. I have only seen two episodes but Gabriel Byrne’s Earl Haraldson is a deliciously paranoid and small-minded villain.
Following the surprisingly good Hatfields and McCoys miniseries in 2012, this is History’s first scripted series, making it a player in a crowded field that includes HBO, Starz, AMC, Showtime and the BBC. Nice to see some actual history on the History Channel, instead of the usual Pawn Stars, Ice Truckers and American Pickers.
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