Northmen: A Viking Saga (2014)

Rating: D+

Dir: Claudio Fäh
Star: Tom Hopper, Ryan Kwanten, Ken Duken, Charlie Murphy

Clearly trying to ride the coat-tails of History Channel’s Vikings, this fails, because it forgets that what makes Vikings work largely isn’t being about vikings. It’s having interesting and well-written characters, capable of transcending a thousand years or so and resonating in the modern era. Here, you instead have a bunch of hairy blokes with swords, running around a very poor facsimile of the East coast of Scotland [actually South Africa], after a storm sends them off-course and sinks their ship.

Following a brush with the locals, they end up in possession of a hostage, the princess Inghean (Murphy), whose father sends a posse of black-clad mercenaries to retrieve her – though there’s some doubt as to how much he wants her back. The Vikings leader, Asbjorn (Hopper), has to try and elude their pursuers as he leads his men, and a conveniently passing monk (Kwanten), south to the safety of an enclave of their countrymen. It’s a bit of a Europudding, with a Swiss director, German producers, an English-speaking cast, and (as noted) South Africa standing in as an unconvincing facsimile of Alba. It’s certainly not lacking in energy, with plenty of running, jumping and enthusiastic swinging of medieval weaponry, and the frequent battle scenes are at least competently-staged.

The problems are far more with what happens whenever the fighting stops, as none of the characters make the slightest impression. Hopper tries to be a low-rent version of Chris Hemsworth: that’s about all I care to remember, and the storyline isn’t much less basic, with the mercenaries in particular, behaving in ways strictly necessary to the plot. The lasting impact this will have, is to provide a greater appreciation for the things Vikings does well, which are easy to forget when you’re watching a bunch of hairy blokes with swords running around. When does series three start?