The ancient epic that inspired The Northman

After two masterful blows in The witch and Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers’ next film was bound to be a big topic of conversation. Little is known about the film, but perhaps some interesting clues can be gathered by examining the film’s apparent source; Amleth’s story.

Robert Eggers has only directed the two aforementioned feature films, but his unique style and incredible direction have helped him stand out as a big new talent. Eggers was asked to remake the beloved 1922 classic Nosferatu in 2015, and the project appears to be underway. The director’s other announced project is The man of the North, which has just unveiled its first trailer.

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In The man of the NorthAlexander Skarsgard portrays a character named Amleth, described as a Viking prince seeking revenge for his murdered father. Ethan Hawke is portrayed as Horwendil and Claes Bang is portrayed as Feng, respectively Amleth’s father and uncle. Along with that few bits of information is a handful of other character names, setting details, and director commentary to make it clear to the film’s source material. The man of the North would be the closest thing to the full adaptation Eggers created. Headlight began as a loose adaptation of an unfinished story by Edgar Allen Poe, but has gradually grown into his own work. Based on limited details and the new trailer, The man of the North is a modern dramatization of a classic tale, modeled on David Lowery The green knight. It’s a fascinating direction for Eggers’ work, and while it’s certain that the director will take artistic liberties, perhaps the basic plot will follow that of Amleth’s story.



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Set in Iceland, the film is based on an old story famous in the country which is believed to have originated around the 10th century. The main expert on the story was an author called Saxo, who was commissioned to create a comprehensive history of Denmark. Amleth’s Story was the most famous entry in this historical encyclopedia. Both the tale’s first appearance and its evolution are disputed, but the tale is an integral part of Scandinavian and Icelandic myth. There is also quite a bit of hesitation in the story itself, as multiple versions change the details and aspects for new audiences. The man of the North appears to be a more in-depth exploration of this semi-complete story, weaving in some of Eggers’ stellar eyes the precision of the era to create a compelling narrative.


Amleth’s story is simple, anagram fans may have noticed that the hero’s name is a slight rearrangement from Shakespeare’s Danish prince name. Yes, Amleth is the direct inspiration of The tragedy of Hamlet, the longest and perhaps the most influential of the 39 plays written by William Shakespeare. Inspire the bard to compose Hamlet is the main legacy of Amleth’s tale, which made the original tale somewhat obscure as the Norse myth says. The two stories are similar in many ways, but Hamlet is kind of an adaptation, so there are a handful of key changes. Hamlet is a more complex and fleshed out story, rich in emotional detail and catharsis, while Amleth’s story is more utilitarian. This could be a side effect of the narrative which underwent many translations prior to its modern incarnation, and the fact that earlier versions of the story may well be lost to the story.


Amleth is the Prince of Denmark, son of Queen Gerutha and King Horwendil. Amleth Feng’s uncle, seized with jealous rage, kills Horwendil and takes the throne. Feng convinces his sister-in-law to marry him, claiming that her murder was justified and that her former husband despised her. Terrified of becoming the next victim, Amleth feigns insanity to avoid Feng’s wrath. Feng tests Amleth’s willpower, prompting him with the affection of a young woman to force the young man to drop the facade. He asks Gerutha to speak to Amleth privately, leaving a spy nearby in the hopes that Amleth will reveal himself to his mother.



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Amleth then kills the spy, establishing to Feng’s satisfaction that he is mentally sane. Feng sends the young man to England with a pair of anonymous servants and a letter ordering his execution, but Amleth discovers the letter and carefully edits it. Amleth’s edited letter sends his masters to the gallows and convinces the King of England to marry his daughter to Amleth. Now prince of two nations, Amleth stayed in England for a year before returning for revenge. Amleth implements her long-standing plan, setting her uncle’s classic on fire and killing her uncle with his blade in chaos. Amleth succeeds, but unlike Hamlet, survives his meeting with revenge, marries another woman, and kills another stepfather before his death and famous burial.


Amleth is a story of revenge and family, royalty and subterfuge, war and violence, and she will finally receive her day in the sun. Drowned by Hamlet, The man of the North will introduce this lesser-known and almost millennial Nordic myth to a new audience, no doubt with a powerful touch from Robert Eggers.

MORE: Alexander Skarsgård Pursues Revenge In New The Northman Trailer


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