If you’d have asked me to cast a biopic about Lucille Ball, my first pick would have been Debra Messing, and not Nicole Kidman, so let’s just get that out of the way right now. It’s not that I don’t think Nicole Kidman isn’t up to the acting task, it’s just aside from vaguely looking like Lucille Ball (um, red hair?), Kidman’s real niche is playing ice queens, which makes her a far more natural choice for the role of Queen Gudrun, the Gertrude-analogue in the proto-Hamlet myth of Amleth, than she is cast as the proto-manic pixie dream girl Lucy Ricardo (I know just pissed off a bunch of you off by writing that, but I have IMDB to back me up on the comparison).
That said, Being the Ricardos (2021) hit theaters on December 10, and it’s having its streaming premier today, December 21, on Amazon Prime Video. Let’s take a look at the trailer:
I’m going to set aside my general skepticism about Aaron Sorkin casting Kidman as the iconic Lucy, because honestly, anyone who steps into that role is going to have a lot of (perhaps unfair) expectations to meet. Mega-stars like Nicole Kidman, of course, are going to face harsher comparisons between the “reel” Lucy and the backstage reality of her life, especially if the tribute fails to meet even the lowest of those expectations. But just watching the trailer, as long as I’m not looking directly at Kidman, I can see enough physical resemblance to balance the cognitive dissonance that exists between half my brain saying “No way in hell can Nicole Kidman pull this off convincingly” and “Give her a chance, for God’s sake, you hyper-critical bitch.” Kidman actually does a good job nailing Lucy’s voice, which helps.
I’m reserving full judgement until I’ve watched the film, and, of course, you will have a report in due time on my findings. Let’s just say that I’m open to the idea of Nicole Kidman doing a reasonable job in this role filled with a lot of reasonable expectations.
Now let’s turn our attention to the next historical flick starring Nicole Kidman, The Northman (2022), which is slated for an April 2022 release. The film is an adaptation of the source material Shakespeare based Hamlet on, about a Danish prince who witnesses his father’s murder at the hands of his father’s brother. Kidman is cast as Queen Gudrun, the aforementioned analogue to Queen Gertrude, who becomes the wife of the murderer brother after her first husband’s death, which ostensibly triggers some real issues between her and her son when Amleth returns from exile to avenge dad.
The film has a lot of things going for it as a frock flick, primarily that it’s directed by Robert Eggers, acclaimed director of The Witch (2015), so presumably attention to historical detail will be pretty high. And it looks that way from the trailer, showing more historically inspired “viking” costumes than what we typically are served up in modern film and television shows dealing with this era.
There are limited photos circulating of the costumes in general, so we just get snippets of them in the trailer to go off of, but I’m seeing more linen and wool than leather biker pants and crudely stitched together fur, which is a good sign (the wolf skins in the trailer are clearly a symbolic choice and not a full-on fashion statement a la Vikings). And it at least looks like there was an armor consultant on the crew that they were paying attention to. I don’t doubt that this film will still deliver all the ridiculously over the top battle scene action that is de rigueur these days, but at least it’s giving more than a passing glance at historical accuracy as it whirls past in a frenzy of slashing swords and blood spatter. I remain, as always, cautiously optimistic.
Will you be seeing Being the Ricardos or The Northman? Tell us in the comments!
Probably see them both eventually. Years ago, Helen Mirren was in a historically oriented version of Hamlet, and more recently, Gillian Anderson stood out as a Ball clone in Gods of America.
Yes probably but more so on the Ricardos. I’ve seen YouTube vlogs from Luci Arnaz that were positive on the show. On the Northmen, I’ll probably wait for the DVD.
Robert Eggers (according to Wikipedia) started out in theatre and is also a production designer. That bodes well for the look of “The Northman”, no?
Both films look worth seeing (even though “The Northman” has me feeling cold and damp… brrrrr… with just the trailer!)
Tom and Lorenzo were highly skeptical about Nicole Kidman, but once they saw the movie, they were surprised by how well they thought she did.
The Northman (2022) certainly does look better than recent television treatments of the Vikingr. I’ve enjoyed Eggers’ first two films and will definitely see this. There are people who are very well versed on Norse material culture and I’d be interested in their opinion.
That said, I don’t think Útlaginn (Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli) (1981) can be topped in terms of authenticity in depicting Vikingr. For that matter, it might be the most authentic depiction of the Early Middle Ages that I can think of. They even have the correct breed of horses. What helped it achieve this is the fact the filmmakers seriously didn’t care how well it translated to modern audiences and just committed to it.
Granted, that movie and this one are in the wrong language. I suppose Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli is closer with Icelandic versus modern English. But I won’t hold my breath for a film in correct Old Norse. Maybe, hopefully, someday someone will come along and one-up both films and make an Old Norse film of the best Viking saga: Njáls saga.
I’ve read in an interview with Eggers that during the ritual scenes the performers will speak in Old Norse, as well as Old Slavic (Björk’s character is apparently a Slavic witch), depending on the characters involved. I know Eggers has consulted at least one person at the University of Iceland, and they have a great Old Icelandic-Norse programme, so I think the resources are there for him to have produced something as true to period as possible. The trouble is that we obviously can’t say for certain how it was pronounced, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Icelandic speaking cast that perform the Old Norse scenes, since modern Icelandic is as close to Old Icelandic-Norse as we get. Also, speaking of Njáls saga, the burning scene in the trailer definitely felt evocative of that!
As an MA student of Viking and Medieval Norse, I’m feeling very excited for The Northman, because I was studying in Reykjavík when production started and I know that Robert Eggers has really done his research, consulting some pretty noteworthy people in the field — including my Old Nordic Religon tutor, Terry Gunnell (interests in folk belief, ritual practice, performance). I know for definite he consulted Neil Price (archaelogy, recently had a book come out called ‘The Children of Ash and Elm’), and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir (women in the Viking world, has written a book called ‘Valkyries’). I definitely saw some pretty authentic costuming details, in terms of helmets, swords, brooches, headpieces. For instance, the helmet that Fjölnir (Claes Bang) is wearing and then removes looks very reminiscent of certain helmets from the Vendel Period. Also, you mentioned the wolf-skins, which to me definitely seem like they are referencing the berserker (ON: berserkir = ‘bear/bare-shirt’) aspect of Viking warfare — which is interesting because there’s debate of the prefix meaning, whether it’s bear or bare, but obviously they’ve gone with the bare shirted! As for the wolf element, there is the counterpart to the berserkir, which is the ulfheðnar, which means ‘wolfskins.’ And both berserkirs and ulfheðnar appear in skaldic poetry, as well as in Old Icelandic saga material, and even the fact that they’re using spears in that clip is accurate, since in a skaldic praise poem called Haraldskvæði, there’s this description of the ulfheðnar:
“Ulfheðnar they are called, who bear bloody shields in the slaughter; they redden spears when they join the fighting; there they are arranged for their task; there I know that the honourable prince places his trust only in brave men, who hack at shields.”
^ I found this example in ‘The Children of Ash and Elm,’ by Neil Price, so to see that in the trailer, such a clear reference, tells me that Eggers really cares about detail and drawing on all the sources available to him in order to create something that feels authentic in look, but also tone. He’s consulted experimental archaelogists as well, so costume-wise I think he’s tried to get as close as possible based on what has survived from Viking Age burials.
So, yeah, I’m feeling fairly optimistic!
Sorry, another thing! You also mentioned the “splattered wool cloak,” which is very interesting because it looks like in that clip she’s performing part of a ‘blót,’ which was a ritual sacrifice, and the splatter is the result of blood from the dipped twig she’s holding. Here’s a better explanation from Neil Price:
“Inside all these buildings and enclosures, there must have been a range of ritual activities going on, but central to them all was the blót, a term often translated as ‘offering’ but which meant much more than sacrifice. Closer in nature to a gift, the blót was usually an act of killing in which animals (and sometimes humans) were ritually slain and their blood poured into bowls or onto stones. Twigs were dipped in the liquid, and a red spray shaken over onlookers and buildings alike.” – The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings
So, I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on there — as she shakes the blood dipped twigs, presumably on Amleth (?), the movement has caused some to splatter back onto her cloak.
So glad to hear someone’s take on the trailer with more knowledge about the period than me! I live with a fellow “Norse Nerd” and after showing him the trailer, he praised pretty much everything you did… the Vendel helmet, the ulfheðnar, and even gently corrected me when I asked “is that Valkyrie wearing braces?” 🤣
I’m really happy to hear that Eggers had a good team of historians working with him, and more importantly, HE WAS LISTENING TO THEM. After hearing about how the showrunner for “Vikings” assembled a team of Norse culture experts for publicity points and then immediately sidelined them, this means a lot. I really liked Eggers’ approach to historicity, especially with “The Witch”, which is more my comfort zone in terms of culture and clothing than Viking era Norse, so I’m pretty happy with what I see so far in “The Northman”.
Haha no problem! I’m an avid follower of this blog and got quite excited that I had an excuse to add some nerdy insights — I just love how detailed the trailer is, how rich the material world he’s created is, plus the epic landscapes etc. I think the medievalist community is very excited for this film because Eggers does approach his movies at almost an academic level in terms of historicity, like you say. Also, good to here your own Norse nerd is suitably impressed as well! :D
Amy Adams was a no-brainer for me as Lucy. Red hair, and unlike Nicole she disappears into any role you cast her in.
The Northman looks very… bloody and epic and Vikingy, and male-oriented. I’d be shocked, based on the trailer, if it passes the Bechdel test. And I adore Anya T-J as an actress, but what’s with the wonky accent? Is she the sister of Lady Gaga’s character in the Gucci movie? It seems like she’s only there to stroke Alex Skaarsgard’s ego.
You could write a fascinating female-centric Norse movie based on Signy, the sister of Sigurd. Her husband treacherously killed her father and all her brothers save the youngest which she managed to rescue. She slept with Sigurd in disguise so he’d have a son of their blood to aid him in his vengeance. Fifteen odd Yeats later Sigurd and Sinfloti descended on Signy’s household and she stood quietly by while they killed her husband and other children and fired the Hall. She then congratulated brother and son on their splendid vengeance and walked into the burning house to die with her family.
It’s a magnificent and far from unique story of a woman caught between birth family and marital family. Signy was as bound to avenge her father and brothers as Sigurd but she was also the loyal wife of the man who had slain them and the mother of his children. She resolved the conflict by aiding her brother’s revenge but sharing her husband’s death. Very dark and very Nordic.
Oh yes, Völsunga saga would make a great adaptation, especially since it apparently heavily inspired Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, so that would be of interest to the fantasy nerds. I do also think Hallgerðr in Njáls saga is a really fascinating female character :)
Women have been used literally forever to create bonds between families and communities and even kingdoms and sometimes this turns out really badly for her when the bonds don’t hold and she has to choose between family of origin and her marital family.
In Nordic tradition women sent to marry rivals or former enemies were called peace weavers. In theory she created kinship bonds and friendship between the groups but of course the men didn’t always cooperate and and the poor peaceweaver was caught in between like Signy.
Doesn’t look like The Northman is going to follow Saxi Getmanicus’ version of the story in which Anleth remains at his uncle’s court feigning Tobe a half wit. He is sent to the king of England to be killed but tricks the king into executing the servants and marrying Anleth to his daughter. Amleth then returns to his Northern kingdom to interrupt his own funeral feast and murder his uncle and his uncle’s thanes. Sailing back to England to collect his bride the English king tries to avenge his ally, Amleth’s uncle, by sending his son in law to court a Scottish queen on his, the English king’s behalf. Well she decides she likes Amleth and marries him. Amleth’s English wife, interestingly chooses to accept the Scot as a co-wife and warns Anleth that her father is trying to kill him. Amleth disposes of the English king then returns to his own country with both wives where he is later killed by a rival and the Scottish wife shifts allegiance to the victor. The English wife’s fate isn’t mentioned.
The similarities to Shakespeare’s play are obvious but the end is very different.
Watched Being the Ricardos. I loved it. It takes a moment to sorta let your own mental image of Lucille Ball evaporate and let Nicole Kidman’s …. created/sculpted visage become your mental image but she is snappy and brilliant and sexy and has realistic work relationships and man oh man, does she have the most insanely gorgeous dressing room I’ve ever seen.