The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #23 September / October 2016
Movies
At the Cinema
The Last King (Birkebeinerne)
by Erik Zidowecki
September / October 2016 | 


The Last King
1h 39min
(R) Action / Adventure / Drama
17 June 2016 (USA)

Country: Norway / Denmark / Sweden / Ireland / Hungary
Language: Norwegian

The film in review this issue is Birkebeinerne, or The Last King. It is based upon an historical event in Norse history when a civil war was threatening the ancient Kingdom.

Around the year 1200, two opposing groups were trying to gain control of all of Norway. The Birkebeins held most of Norway but the Bagler's had power in the East. When King Håkon Sverresson (Håkon III of Norway) died in 1204, the power of the Birkebeins was weakened, as he had no apparent heirs.

This is essentially where the film begins. The King is killed by poison from his father's former queen who wishes power again and is working with Gisle, one of the King's nephews. Gisle then accuses his brother, Inge, of the murder, and has him imprisoned, planning to then announce himself as the new king.

That was the plan, at least, for as the King dies, he tells both Inge and Gisle that he has an heir from a woman, Inga of Varteig.


Skjervald being forced to reveal the baby's location

While this is happening, the Bagler's are crossing Norway to the seat of power in Nidaros (modern day Trondheim), looting and killing along the way. Among those fleeing is Inga and the heir, Håkon Håkonsson. She is accompanied by two warriors, Skjervald and Torstein. Believing them to be safe, Skjervald leaves to return to his own wife and child.

The film is beautifully done, with great detail given to historical accuracy, and the Norwegian scenery is breathtaking.

Gisle sends word to the advancing Baglers that there is an heir, and they set out a hunting party to find and kill the baby. One of their first stops is Skjervald's home, where they force him to reveal where the heir has been taken by threatening to kill his wife and child, which they do anyways. Skjervald manages to escape, however, and flees to warn the others at the fort first.

When the fort is attacked, Inga and the baby get separated, forcing Skjervald and Torstein to take the infant king themselves. They are pursued for days before finally managing to elude or kill most of their followers, but Torstein is wounded.


Torstein spotting Skjervald from the fort

They are reunited with Inga in a farm stronghold and Torstein's wound is tended to. Meanwhile, Gisle has announced that the baby heir has been killed in a storm and so he will now become King, taking the former King's daughter. Kristin, as his bride, to continue the bloodline.

Time is running out. The Bagler's will soon overrun the farm and kill the baby unless they can get him to Nidaros before Gisle weds an unwilling Kirstin. Will they make it?


The Balgers riding in to attack

When I started watching this film, the first thing that struck me was that the main method of crossing the snow by the Birkebeins was skiing. They whooshed over the landscape wielding spears and bows, for travel and fighting. I had no idea that skis had been around that long. Research after that revealed that not only did the Norse indeed use skis, but that cave paintings and other evidence show skis have been used around for over five thousand years.

I did not know the historical event behind the story, so I researched it afterward. The film made a few changes. First, the heir king had not been born at the time of the King's death (which only may have been caused by poison).


Skjervald and Torstein watching for their pursuers

Secondly, the character of Gisle was based upon the real Jarl "Håkon the Crazy". The was for the name change was to avoid further confusion since there was already two Håkons (King and son). Also Jarl Håkon never directly opposed his brother Inge for the throne.

The film is beautifully done, with great detail given to historical accuracy, and the Norwegian scenery is breathtaking. The only language used is Norwegian, but I wouldn't expect differently considering the location and time period.


Torstein, Inga, and baby Håkon

For some reason, the film has an R rating, which I can only assume is for the violence, since there is no nudity or abundance of swearing. Even the violence is of the "little blood" variety.

I would highly recommend The Last King to anyone who likes historical fiction or just loves watching medieval chase scenes on skis.


 
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At The Cinema - The Last King (Birkebeinerne)
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
Sources:
• "The Last King" Internet Movie Database <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4738360/>
All images are copyright Newgrange Pictures, Nordisk Film Production, Paradox Film 3, Proton Cinema

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.

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