Stars: Charlie Bewley, Clive Standen, James Cosmo, Elliot Cowan, Glynis Barber, Ivan Kaye, Michael Jibson, Guy Flanagan | Written by Matthew Read | Directed by Farren Blackburn
I think it’s fair to say I don’t get on well with many of today’s historical movies and shows. I’m not a fan of Starz’s Spartacus series or the Game of Thrones TV adaptation; and the recent Viking flick Valhalla Rising bored me to tears… Pathfinder, Beowulf, The 13th Warrior, Centurion, The Eagle? No, no, no, no and hell no! So the prospect of watching viking flick Hammer of the Gods – to be honest – filled me with dread. Even more so given it’s a UK movie that, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t have an official UK release date as yet (bar it’s screening at Frightfest on August 24th) – a sign which usually doesn’t bode well for a British production.
The film follows viking Prince, Steinar (Bewley) who is sent by his father the king on a quest to find his estranged brother Hakan, who was banished from the kingdom many years before. Steinar’s epic journey across terrifyingly hostile territory gradually sees him emerge as the man his father wants him to be – the ruthless and unforgiving successor to his throne…
Interestingly, Hammer of the Gods was penned by Matthew Read, who worked on the script for aforementioned Valhalla Rising alongside Nicolas Winding Refn, and penned the recent remake of Refn’s 90s thriller Pusher. Here it seems he’s taken his experiences on both films and combined them into one high-concept, action-packed pseudo-historical action-adventure (that’s a lot of hyphens!) set in Viking Britain in 871 AD.
Penned by an Englishman and directed by another, Farren Blackburn, who cut his teeth on the likes of Doctors, Holby City and the BBC’s supernatural drama The Fades – a job which looks to have had an influence on this film, as Blackburn brings a similar eerie visual quality to this movie as he did on that show – it’s hard to believe (at least for me) that this is a British film. We’ve had similarly set historical epics produced with UK money (some not on UK shores however) and they’ve typically been much more straight-laced and stoic than Hammer of the Gods. In fact if it wasn’t for the cast, packed with some familiar faces with familiar accents, you’d be hard-pressed to believe this is actually a British film.
But I guess the big question is, did I like Hammer of the Gods?
Well given my disdain for the sub-genre I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised. Unlike the typical historical film and even moreso a typical “British” film, Hammer of the Gods doesn’t treat it subject matter with reverence, instead it brings a modern edge to the oft-told tale of Vikings vs Saxons, mixing a rock/techno soundtrack with some well-choreographed fight scenes and plenty of bloody gore. And that’s why it appeals. Of course some may decry the notion that it’s not “historically accurate” but frankly I feel the story is all the better for it – especially when it veers into deranged Apocalypse Now territory in the third act.
With a cracking cast (in particular Charlie Bewley as the viking Prince, Steiner), some truly stylish direction, a fantastic soundtrack from Benjamin Wallfisch and a great story, Hammer of the Gods is the Drive of Viking movies and as such it’s unmissable.