A drama about Vikings from the History channel could have been dull, but The Tudorscreator Michael Hirst is the man who made Henry VIII’s court as soapy and steamy as a laundry.
With Hirst recruiting Aussie model-turned-actor Travis Fimmel to bring a boyish charisma to the lead role of Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings is a mix of family drama, rustic politics and, yes, history. And it soon becomes addictive.
It opens at the tail end of a battle and immediately introduces two of the main things you’ll have to learn to handle if you want to continue watching: blood-soaked death and stunningly gorgeous scenery.
Brothers Ragnar and Rollo are dispatching their enemies on an emerald-green hillside, against the backdrop of a slate-grey mountain. The violence is less breathtaking than the cinematography, which renders Ragnar’s eyes fabulously blue. It’s almost endearing when he later slays some defenceless monks with an axe.
Despite the barbarism, Ragnar is a romantic figure: a Northman who dares to dream. He wants to be the first Viking to head west in search of new lands — against the orders of his leader (Gabriel Byrne). Ragnar has an adventurous spirit and all the latest navigational technology, such as a wooden disc floating in a bucket of water.
Ragnar’s journey (to foreign lands and up the slippery, bloody pole of Viking nobility) is the focus, but there’s another standout character: his wife Lagetha (Katheryn Winnick), a kick-ass warrior mum with the political wisdom to advance on her own in Viking society.
Compared with Tudor Britain, eighth-century Scandinavia looks feminist. But when Rollo develops as much of a crush on Lagetha as the male viewers and starts a feud with his brother that sees him swap sides in a civil war, it’s clear that if Vikings weren’t so bloody, it would be a soap.