The History Channel’s first foray into dramatic TV, and I actually really enjoyed this 9 episode tale of semi-mythical Viking adventurer Ragnar Lodbrok. I’m nowhere near enough of an expert to comment on its precise level of realism, but it felt pretty convincing in the main to me, but much more importantly it seemed to get across some sense of the utterly alien Viking mindset. The characters in epic fantasy often see the world from the perspective of a modern American or European. It’s historical fiction (like Robert Low’s The Whale Road, which I always use as an example of this) that often presents us with something more weird and wonderful in terms of the characters’ behaviours, rituals, routines and motivations. Here they use the point of view of a captured Christian priest to really mine the strangeness of viking thinking.
Gabriel Byrne’s the only actor I recognised, but there’s some solid performances in there, from eternally shifty Ragnar, via his hotheaded brother Rollo, his hard-hitting wife Lagertha, to their loopy priest/jester/boatbuilder Floki. You can tell the budget isn’t immense, they’ve cleverly kept most of the action pretty small-scale and intimate, but what there is works well and looks good. Once battle is joined it’s crunching stuff. At times there’s a sense of an educational mission lurking just beneath the surface, but that actually makes for a series that doesn’t always do the obvious or reach for the low-hanging dramatic fruit. It delivers drama, but it’s not dumbed down. Good stuff.