The Northman (2022)

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I’ve become resigned to the fact that there is no film out there based in the Viking age that is going to perfectly satisfy every so-called Viking expert on the internet, so I’m not even going to try to convince them that The Northman (2022) comes closest to accurate clothing and material culture. Someone is going to read this review and comment about the hair looking weird or the bear skin on the berserker or the fact that you can’t document every tiny detail of Björk’s costume down to its atomic components or that they just fundamentally object to Nicole Kidman being in any film whatsoever, and you know what? Die mad about it, because The Northman gets it WAY better than fucking Vikings, ffs.

When it comes to historical films, it’s all about how close you get to accuracy, because the vast majority of shows don’t even try. I’ve been doing this movie review nonsense long enough to have lowered my standards considerably, because the alternative is to increase my blood pressure medication and now that I’m in my 40s, I sort of value what little health I’ve got. I’m just pleased that the director and costume designer both had a solid, historically-based vision for this film that didn’t fall prey to the usual tropes we see in films about Vikings, like they all wear black leather pants and look like a cross between punk rockers and motorcycle gang members who haven’t bathed in two years.

This is what Vikings (2013 -) wants us to believe they wore in the 9th century. I mean, COME ON. Leather codflaps? Really???

 

Now this is more like it. King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) and Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) dressed for a ceremonial feast.

 

Robert Eggers directed and wrote this film, and that should give you a hint as to how geeky about the material culture we are all going to get. Eggers is best known for his fantastic film The Witch (2015), which has some of the most authentic early 17th-century costumes I’ve seen in a movie. He also wrote and directed The Lighthouse (2019), another exhaustingly researched period psychological thriller.

In particular, the costumes in The Northman should look familiar to any Norse reenactor, because the woman who literally wrote the book on Viking era clothing, Nille Glæsel, served as a consultant to costume designer Linda Muir on the film (Muir also designed the costumes for The Witch and The Lighthouse). Muir states:

Along with reading the sagas, I came across a book by a woman called Nille Glæsel, who is Danish but lives in Norway now. And she’s been making Viking clothing for over 20 years. She is a living archaeologist—a contemporary Viking woman. And so I had some questions about very specific designs that I wanted to include, particularly for Queen Gudrún’s costuming. And from Nille’s book, I had gleaned this idea that pleated shifts would go under all her clothing and be used as nightwear. Nille and I started up a conversation via email, and she was terrifically helpful. So I thought, Maybe I’ll ask Nille to come and join us. She doesn’t have film experience, but she certainly has Viking experience. And that was, in hindsight, a really crucial decision because she was just a font of information about these very specific construction techniques. I would look at pieces from museums or things that archaeologists had written, but then to translate that into actually constructing these pieces was a whole other task.

Linda Muir, “How The Northman’s Costume Designer Brought the Viking World to Bold, Breathtaking Life”, Vogue, April 25, 2022.

That’s Nille Glaesel in the blue to the left of the image, btw. And not a leather biker pant in sight!

 

Linda Muir’s design board for Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman), showing the level of detail and handwoven fabric and trims that went into her costume.

Nille also has a fantastic YouTube channel where she goes into great detail about all the components of Norse clothing, from the skin out.

You can check out Nille’s Instagram or buy her book and learn how to make these costumes yourself.

I have this book, and her other one that includes full-sized patterns, and they’re a fantastic resource for anyone interested in learning how to make Norse clothing.

 

Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) and Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) dressed in Slavic tunics (he’s in disguise, she’s a Slav who was taken as a slave by Amleth’s raiding party).

 

A clearer shot of Olga’s Slavic costume. Check out the Skarsgård in the background just being all… Skarsgård-y.

 

They eventually get cleaned up and have some interesting clothes.

 

Prince Amleth as a boy, before his life goes totally to shit. Check out that lovely tablet-woven trim on his tunic!

 

And of course, the completely stunning costume of The Seeress (Björk), which has different elements of traditional Slavic folk costume incorporated into it, but just so much EXTRA.

I know this is an era that isn’t particularly well-liked by afficionados of historical costume films, but I have to say that The Northman comes closest to anything I’ve seen in accurately depicting Norse clothing and material culture. Y’all can nitpick the details all you want, I’m just going to say that if it’s between Vikings and The Northman, there’s no contest.

 

Have you seen The Northman (2022)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

36 Responses

  1. susan l eiffert

    Well this doesn’t look half bad! Thrilled to see some authenticity. I’m so glad that first photo was of the fucking Vikings. Prick flap but bare torso?! And wtf are those elaborate metal cuffs meant to protect – the radial artery?! But the thing that’s really ticking me off about all these ancient historical flicks is the glowering, frowning, puckered foreheads and menacing narrowed eyes, long stringy hair, tanned (dirty?) skin. Give it a damn rest fgs.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Heaven knows I’ve got no problem with muscular half dressed men but the strngy hair and dirt are a libel on historical vikings who were known for their good grooming and counted combs as their most treasured possessions.

      Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Yes and I know it is probably the historic legend/tale or whatever that Will Shakespeare used as a basis for Hamlet. BTW I’m re-watching Upstart Crow and I can’t stop laughing. Duh as Susannah might say. Gemma Whelan is my fav as Kate the landlady’s polyglot daughter who is probably the smartest of all the characters with Baldrick and Anne coming a close second.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Norsemen is definitely still up there, but the costumes in The Northman were more accurate by a wide margin.

      Reply
  3. Gray

    Well, personally I prefer long haired bearded Vikings with as little clothes on as possible 😁 (are the belly buttons accurate? Should they be inies or outies?)

    But seriously, “The Northman” looks good. I’ll have to calm down and take a good look.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      There’s enough nekkid Skarsgard in the flick to satisfy the most discerning aficionados of long haired bearded Vikings. Including the naked sword fight finale that takes place in an active volcano. Hamlet ain’t got nothin’ on this Dane.

      Reply
  4. Ewa Pocierznicka

    The only possibly slavic element I see in Seer’s dress is krajka, that means the woven belt she wears. Okay, if I squint REALLY hard her headdress resembless kokoshnik, but that’s all. The rest is pure bullshit, Take a word of a Slavic woman for that.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      As someone who is starting to dip her toes into this period of historical Eastern Slavic costume, I do agree that the Slavic costumes were much less stringently researched than the Norse costumes. I think Muir was going for a way to make it easy for audiences to see the difference between the two cultures so opted to include the post-period embroidery all over Olga’s tunic to evoke Slavic folk embroidery motifs. I think the result is unobtrusive enough to let it slide into the category of “sort of, but not really”.

      The Seeress is total fantasy, but I thought it struck a good balance between folk imagery and mystical force of nature. She’s in the film for a hot second, in a vision that Amleth has about how he’s going to be the foundation of a new bloodline or whatever, and then is never referenced again. They do something similar with The Witch (who is played by a man) who shows Amleth more of his destiny in a series of really whacked out vision trips, where The Witch’s costume has elements of female Norse dress, but it’s all just “off” to show he’s definitely not grounded in reality.

      Reply
      • Ewa Pocierznicka

        Well, it’s not that unobtrusive unfortunately, because they used the elements of folk costumes and these are quite modern in Slavic corner in the world, most of them were created in like mid 19th century, after the political and economical changes improved the situation of the peasants enough to allow them to dabble a bit in a fashion, so to speak. So, these folks costumes are much, much later than the period shown in Nothman and it’s jarring to me, see all these so very not medieval aprons and skirts.

        Reply
  5. Mary

    My favorite SCA garb was my tunics and aprons with tablet woven trim, TONS of embroidery, and more TONS of lampworked beads. Definitely my favorite to make!

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I wish I was any good at embroidery, because the Norse embroidery stuff I see people doing is SO amazing. Seriously, if you love surface embellishment, Norse is the way to go. Historical costumers tend to dismiss it because it’s all wool and linen and the clothes aren’t fitted tight to the body, but it’s such a rich culture/era for clothing and jewelry (ESPECIALLY THE JEWELRY) and I wish it got more love in the general costuming spheres outside of reenactment.

      Reply
      • Thora Sharptooth

        There’s very little embroidery/applique embellishment evident in extant Viking culture clothing. The extensive use of embroidery in that type of costuming is mostly down to SCA and reenactor over-enthusiasm for embellishment, some of it fueled by European museum attempts to suck in attendees by giving them fancy “recreations” of Viking Age outfits like the Mammen one.

        Reply
  6. Overhire

    I had been real meh on this flick but this solid assessment might actually compel me to see it.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I really enjoyed the film in general, but the costumes were what tipped me over from “cool flick with a half nekkid Skarsgard” into “I will make my friends watch this over and over with me.”

      Reply
  7. Vittoria di Carduci

    I watched this with a dear friend in the theatre. We made a man behind us laugh his head off listening to us nerd on the trims and the weaves of the fabrics etc as we left. This is a brutal movie, but, y’all- it’s good.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      LOL! That was me and my boyfriend. I had to keep shushing him in the theatre because he kept excitedly yammering in my ear about some element or reference or weapon or or or… He also kept pointing out the extras that he knew from the European Viking reenactment circles and all the jewelry made by his friend Alban, etc. He knows Nille, too, so I’m trying to see if I can get him to connect us for a more in-depth interview.

      I threatened to make him do a podcast with me on this film and he kind of got quiet for about 4 minutes before it started all over again. 😂

      Reply
      • hsc

        “He knows Nille, too, so I’m trying to see if I can get him to connect us for a more in-depth interview.”

        That would be great! I hope this works out!

        Reply
  8. hsc

    Shirtless Skarsgård and NO mention of “the V”???

    That other reviewer would be so disappointed.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I mean, I did point him out in the background… LOL

      He’s a damn fine specimen of a man for damn sure.

      Reply
  9. Brandy Loutherback

    The Vampire Diaries is always lowering standards! Seriously, with the leather corset? I’ll take the Northman please!

    Reply
  10. Al Don

    I actually feel a bit icky saying this, but I didn’t like it as a movie. Loved Egger’s first two films though. The story is paper thin, the romance listless and a distraction if anything, and the acting inconsistent. Other Early Medieval Scandinavian revenge tales are also straightforward – like Hrafninn flýgur (When the Raven Flies) (1984) and Ofelaš (Pathfinder) (1987), but they somehow pull it off… better. (The latter in part because of it’s unique arrangement of story structure.) And you can’t chalk it up to the influence of the sagas; this movie doesn’t feel like a saga story-wise. The sagas aren’t straightforward and are full of twists, turns, and a series of events. They’re epics rather than single episodes.

    For the acting, I’m curious to know why the male actors so often talk in their “false notes”. Do they think it makes them sound more Nordic or just more macho? Either way, it’s hokey rather than intimidating. The child actors are plainly bad. This is all odd to me since the acting tone in Egger’s first two films was very well controlled. For a film at this production level, that acting should not be acceptable.

    For me, Útlaginn (Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli) (1981) remains the best depiction of Viking [Early Medieval Scandinavian] culture. Now, I’m not the sort who can visually spot tablet weaving so I completely cannot comment on that. But I do see fewer concessions to modernity – no modern bodybuilders, no modern horses, and no Hollywood-esque end fight sequence. Eggers does admit the end fight is something “actual Vikings” would find ridiculous. Útlaginn has a major advantage because it didn’t care how much it felt like a movie. Eggers, in large part because of his producers, had to dance that line and it comes off stilted.

    I did love the set design of The Northman, however – it looked great. Apparently they couldn’t even use as much real wood as they wanted but you could have fooled me!

    I wanted to like this movie more than I did. I still plan on seeing anything Eggers makes in the future. There’s a lot visually to recommend this film; I just wish it was used on a better story.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Thank you for your detailed critique! It’s absolutely a valid critique of the shortcomings of the film, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s PERFECT, but it gets a lot more right (particularly with costuming, which is the focus of this blog, afterall) than it gets glaringly wrong. A lot of what the experts are nitpicking over are very detailed things that I’m assuming Eggers glossed over because there was just no way to include that level of detail in a film. I think he’s a director who treads a very fine line between getting things as authentic as possible without going too far into the deep end, and when the only other mainstream competition is Vikings, I think it’s ok to gloss over some things in the name of advancing the story/vision for the widest audience possible. While I would love a wildly hyper authentic film about Norse culture, I’m not sure the rest of the world would. People were already on the fence about The Northman because it is such a high concept film that skirts the edges of inaccessibility.

      Reply
    • Roxana

      I saw a Norse expert on YouTube go all gooey about how great Arvandil’s hall was.

      Reply
  11. Syele

    I also loved the incredible jewelry they sourced! So many gorgeous pieces by Norse reenacting artists. Loved wondering if I would see any of mine! :D

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Kel was watching the movie the whole time going “That’s a Wojtek, that’s an Alban, that’s another Alban, I have that brooch, I have that ring…” 😂

      I thought I saw your fancy brooches on Nicole Kidman, but I can’t find a pic of it that shows her in whole royal get up where you can clearly see the brooches she’s wearing.

      And I think it’s Ethan Hawke that’s wearing the Wojtek brooch I have been coveting for years. It’s this one with the gold center. I love Wojtek’s work so much. So cool to see so much of it featured in the film!

      Reply
  12. M.E. Lawrence

    I wonder if I could go see this and just shut my eyes when the blood starts flowing? It looks fabulous.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      P.S. A lurking friend adds: “Yes, the costumes in ‘Northman’ were almost perfect, but it was the typical savage Vikings torturing, pillaging, raping, and bashing children’s brains out. Where are the farmers, weavers, goatherds, blacksmiths, all the normal people who make life possible? The Vikings couldn’t live on pillage alone. I’m disappointed the director chose to perpetuate the myth.”

      Reply
  13. Colleen

    I watched most of the movie, liked the costumes, but I could not get past the violence. And I know that that period of history was extremely violent, because how else do you conquer other nations?

    Reply
  14. Roxana

    Aurvandil is is a Norse mythic figure, giant or Asa, associated with a star. The Old English equivalent was Earendil. A name that should strike many fantasy fans as being quite familiar.

    Reply
  15. mantelli

    That looks interesting, although nothing can eclipse my love for the cheesy 1958 Tony Curtis film of the same name.

    Reply
    • mantelli

      Whoops. I meant The Vikings, not some imaginary Tony Curtis movie with the same name as this movie.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        We know what you meant 😁
        The Vikings has rather fewer chests but all the muscular arm and leg a girl could want.

        Reply

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