Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers' "The Northman."

‘The Northman’ went to extreme lengths to bring the Viking Age to modern audiences, experts say

Film director Robert Eggers spent $90 million to bring the Norse legend of Amleth to life on the screen, and he consulted a number of experts to do so.

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Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers' "The Northman."

Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features

A-list stars, big, bloody fight scenes and a Viking prince seeking revenge for the murder of his father.

“The Northman” has it all.

But for film buffs and nerds alike, there’s something else that makes “The Northman” even more impressive — it went to extreme lengths to present historical accuracy on everything from the sets to the stitching on the costumes.

Related: This once-frozen pass is a trove of Viking artifacts. Now, there's a race to preserve them.

Film director Robert Eggers spent $90 million to bring the Norse legend of Amleth to life on the screen, and he consulted a number of experts to do so, including Nille Glæsel.

Glæsel is a Danish reenactor and Viking-era clothing consultant who lives in Norway and was hired alongside costume designer Linda Muir.

She said that the film is like watching a museum exhibit on the Viking Age come to life. And she would know.

“I’ve worked with many museums. If you go into a banqueting hall or into a house or on a boat of [film director] Robert’s [in the movie], you are a part of that life. He’s simply a master of creating life in pictures.”

Nille Glæsel, Viking-era consultant on the film 

“I’ve worked with many museums,” she said. “If you go into a banqueting hall or into a house or on a boat of [in the film from director] Robert’s, you are a part of that life. He’s simply a master of creating life in pictures.”

Glæsel said that she had access to resources and material that she couldn’t have afforded working on her own or with museums.

“I was standing there cutting handwoven fabric [that] was $300 per meter,” Glæsel said. “It was a level I never dreamed of.” 

“We were very much in dialogue about everything in small detail — and Robert is so nerdy, or what shall I say. He goes so much in details, in tiny, tiny small things.”

Nille Glæsel, Viking-era consultant on the film 

“We were very much in dialogue about everything in small detail — and Robert is so nerdy, or what shall I say. He goes so much in details, in tiny, tiny small things.”

Case in point: A headband worn by Amleth, portrayed by Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård.

Related: Music to soothe the soul: Ludovico Einaudi's 'Elegy for the Arctic'

“This headband is made out of something called tablet weaving,” Eggers explained in an interview with Vanity Fair.

He recalled how he asked Glæsel if some berserkers, including Amleth, in the film could have leather headbands.

“And she said ‘Yeah, if it was ****ing Woodstock. And she was very insistent that it would be tablet weaving and that is what is accurate.”  

Berserkers were elite warriors of the Viking Age, but many of their traditions were lost to time. In one notable scene, the berserkers are psyching themselves around a fire the night before going into battle.

Jonas Lorentzen is a Danish musician and actor who both starred in “The Northman” and helped create the film’s music. He also consulted as a voice coach on the berserker scene.

Jonas Lorentzen acted in "The Northman" and helped create its music.

Jonas Lorentzen acted in "The Northman" and helped create its music.

Credit:

Courtesy of Jonas Lorentzen

“It’s based on a few different depictions of warrior shamans, with this horned helmet and double spears,” Lorentzen said. “And the way they are dancing comes from a description of some Nordic warriors called the Varangian Guard dancing for the emperor. So, it’s inspired by both archaeological and source material.”

A helmet plate patris

A helmet plate patris with a weapon dancer and a bear warrior from Björnhovda, Torslunda parish, Algutsrum district, Mörbylånga municipality, Öland, Kalmar county, Sweden. Fig. 1 from the article "Helmets and swords in Beovulf" by Knut Stjerna from a festival publication by Oscar Montelius published in 1903.

One compromise in the film appears to be around hairstyles. Some scholars say that real-life Vikings sported what we might refer to today as bowl cuts. But most of the on-screen Vikings have long hair. Glæsel said that might not be entirely correct.

“There’s a tapestry where you see the haircut and that is to the shoulder,” Glæsel said.

But there is at least one example of a notable, long-haired Northman: King Harald Hårfagre, which she said translates to “king with the beautiful, long hair.”

“So, maybe it was exceptional that he had long hair,” Glæsel said. “But we cannot really know.”

But for all the serious detail and research, “The Northman” has been a slow burn at the box office.

In its first few weeks, the film has earned just over $50 million, not yet turning a profit.