Director: Chris Crow
Screenplay: Graham Davidson, Chris Crow
Starring: Marc Pickering, Mark Lewis Jones, Elen Rhys, Joshua Richards
Running Time: 86 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
Inspired by historical events, Viking: The Darkest Day, considers what really might have happened to encourage the moving of the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ from their original resting place, across to an Iona monastery, during the latter part of the eighth century.
The film begins with a warrior, Hereward, mulling about his past and how one journey changed his life forever. The film then skips back in time to him as a young trainee monk, selected to join his mentor on a long trip to deliver the Holy Gospel of Lindisfarne to safety, following a Viking attack; an attack that sees nearly all of the other monks slaughtered by rampaging Norsemen, led by Hadrada, who wants the book for himself.
The monks are pursued by a small number of Vikings (probably for budgetary reasons) intent on recovering the valuable holy book and the rest of the film follows this on-foot chase, across moors, through forests and along windy hill-tops. I think this is the movie’s main problem, in that there’s only so much wandering through woods a viewer can take and the film rapidly becomes rather repetitive. Having said that the film is still full of incident with the two monks, and a warrior protector they meet along the way, having to get out of numerous scrapes, not only with the Norsemen, but also with a cannibal tribe, obviously modelled on the old Sawney Bean legend.
The film is grim and gritty throughout and the filmmakers have obviously done their research into how the people of that time dressed, spoke, behaved and fought their battles, as at times it feels like you’re watching a very violent history lesson brought bloodily to life.
The acting is pretty good throughout with the main protagonists all being played well by the likes of Pickering, Rhys and Michael Jibson, who plays Hamal. The shoot looks to have been a cold one, with actors' faces turning blue at times, their breath pluming out during numerous scenes. And the Welsh mountains add plenty of production value to the film, lending it a bleakly authentic vibe throughout. Plus the evocative music enhances the visuals, adding weight to the film’s religious/mystical theme.
Unfortunately early on there is a scene between the monks, as they wait for their protective escort to meet them, which feels a bit too much like a history info-dump, and this also slows the film down too much. However it recovers itself and, as events unfurl, the individual characters are each given chance to have their moment in the limelight. There’s a nice dynamic between the young monk and a female Pict they rescue and the young couple quickly become the characters the viewer can most relate to; well this viewer anyway!
The fight scenes are suitably vicious, although in some instances annoyingly shot with shaky cameras and ultra close-ups making it tricky to see what’s going on at times. The Norsemen are also rather nasty and it’s no time at all before we see them smashing monk’s heads in with axes, killing a convoy of religious zealots for information and, in perhaps the most disturbing scene, where one of them rapes the old monk as the young man listens from where he’s hidden nearby. But the Viking in question is an equal opportunities pillager and attempts to rape the young Pict girl later too – nice chap!
Viking: The Darkest Day is a film which sadly will probably disappear fairly quickly, which is a shame really as it’s well made and is definitely of interest to those who enjoy their history told raw, red raw, and to those who generally like medieval and gladiator type movies where the battles are gruesomely staged and a grim tone hangs in the air. Oh, and I’m sure battle re-enactment groups will also love it…
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Viking: The Darkest Day has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Signature Entertainment. Unfortunately there were no extras on the review disc, although I, for one, would have liked to have seen some ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries to accompany the film.