Vikings

2013-08-04_0049It’s nigh on impossible not to stumble onto a period drama on television these days. Long considered too dull and too expensive, now they are prolific.

The best of them, Game of Thrones, may be fictional but its influence is obvious. You only have to look to the violence weaved through The Bible to see that. Spartacus, Rome and The Tudors all pre-date it but add to the success of the genre.

Now Michael Hirst, who created The Tudors, has turned his hand to historic Scandinavia for Vikings. 

This sprawling Canadian-Irish drama premiered on the History Channel (US) in March and comes to Australia via SBS.

Set in the 8th century, it centres around the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a dashing, bearded warrior and farmer who devises new ways to conquer nearby lands, even when it means going against the traditions of his community, led by local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne).

Lothbrok seeks to lead a tribe of men across the sea to the west, using an early form of a compass. It’s a plan his peers think is bereft, but Lothbrok remains determined and a boat is built. Lothbrok is not all brute, and there are scenes with his young son Bjorn (Nathan O’Toole) who gets lessons in what it takes to become a proud Viking man.

His wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is no slouch, fending of the advances of some lecherous men with her own brand of domestic warfare. Another Aussie model-turned-actor Alyssa Sutherland will also appear.

Travis Fimmel sure has come a long way from his meteoric rise from Echuca farmboy to Calvin Klein underwear model. Here he is the strong, silent type as Lothbrok. His performance may not win any awards compared to the populist Game of Thrones cast, but he makes his mark as the anti-hero of this saga. I say anti-hero because Lothbrok leads a violent crusade as part of the Viking conquest.

Gabriel Byrne gives a darker performance as Earl Haraldson, a fierce and paranoid leader whose rule consists of beheadings and terror.

For a television drama there’s plenty of work for the costume department, and settings are a mix of vast locations and a dash of CGI.

Unlike The Tudors, Vikings isn’t a sexed-up rock-star romp, and while Fimmel shines in the central role, the pace is somewhat uneven. But given cable television tends to get the lion’s share of these sagas, SBS offers a rare diversion and it premieres with a double episode.

Ironically this is set in Scandinavia on a channel that’s renowned for its excellent Scandi-produced dramas. But Vikings aspires to grander action and there are times it rapes and pillages the small-screen.

Vikings begins 8:35pm Thursday on SBS ONE

7 Comments:

  1. Watched the first two episodes and I like it. Will be watching it in future for sure.

    Gabriel Byrne as Earl is excellent, a really *bad* baddie who has you wanting to see him get what’s coming to him (though if Vikings wants to really emulate GoT of course he won’t!) Ragnar and his wife are a great couple, violent and bloodthirsty as the times demand, but also loving and warm when they can be. I loved the way Lagertha got so angry that she couldn’t sail west with her husband.

    Yes the scenes in the abbey were bloody, but not over the top. It’s important we understand how bloody the Vikings were, the men and women who braved the open sea in those tiny long boats were no saints for all their bravery, they were effectively pirates and looters who terrorised foreign lands and their peoples for centuries.

  2. I quite enjoyed it, but it was unnecessarily violent at times. For instance, when they arrived in England (which wasn’t called England then, so how did they know it even existed. They said they were specifically setting out for England), why was it necessary to arrive at a monastery and proceed to slaughter nearly every inhabitant?

    It could be implied – we really didn’t need to see it in detail.

  3. Secret Squirrel

    SBS appears to be morphing into the Scandinavian Broadcast Service and so far I’m not complaining.

    Thanks for the review. I’m not expecting this to be as good as GoT or completely historically accurate (as long as they don’t wear cow-horn helmets!) but, from what I’ve seen and read about it, it looks a lot better than The Bible.

    Thursday is an unusual night to be launching something like this. SBS isn’t as driven by ratings as the commercials but they do derive some of their income from advertising and eyeballs do convert to dollars.

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