Such is the influence of Marvel on contemporary cinema that I must confess to having thought first of Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston when Of Gods and Warriors, the second feature by director David L. G. Hughes, introduced Odin and Loki. Here, the duo are – as they should be – gods of Nordic legend rather than celestial superheroes. As for their film, a sound opening rapidly becomes very – very – silly.
Captured in a gloriously mythic Northern Ireland, the film is unfortunate to feel like an ambitious but low-budgeted television drama. One of the sort produced in the pre-Game of Thrones era. For every breathtaking and intensely cinematic shot of some misty forest or looming mountain, there is an underwhelming battle sequence. The opening one’s weak but they gets worse.
Far more successful are scenes better suited to the film’s scale limitations, each aided by a number of sturdy central performances and directorial flair. There’s ham in Hughes’ dialogue – ‘Sleep is the cousin of death and how I have slept all these years’ – but conviction in his efforts.
Set in some unspecific realm of the Viking era, the film’s Shakespearean conceit involves the rightful heir to the kingdom of Volsung – Anna Demetriou’s Helle – find herself exiled after being framed for the murder of her father, King Asmund (Andrew Whipp). A twist to the tale is that Helle only discovers that she is daughter the King mere moments before his death. At birth, on the machinations of her power-hungry uncle, Helle was swapped with her nephew: a false heir deemed more secure, being male.
As is typical for this brand of indie, Of Gods and Warriors’ has a headline act in Terence Stamp’s Odin. A coup for the production, his blue-caped and echoey performance is certainly one that brings flights of gravitas. Whilst Stamp appears sporadically, however, and generally to utter cryptic nonsense, the real star of the film is Demetriou. Playing her role with a demure strength, the newcomer is let down only by anachronism in the make-up department. Helle is remarkably clean and well kept for a woman of her Viking age, particularly next to a craggy Will Mellor, who plays honest, loyal Lord Soini – hardly a stretch for him.
Helle isn’t the only one with access to ye olde Herbal Essences though, as she discovers on stumbling across a colony of hippy communists in the film’s bizarre mid-point shift in direction. Uncomfortable sex scenes are sandwiched between flower power dances and weddings. A rendition of Hakuna Matata could work here but, in the wider film, this stretch kills both pace and logic. Lost in its own mess, Hughes’ script proceeds to spiral further and further beyond control to the point that one character declares: ‘we will eat your women’.
There is much for Of Gods and Warriors’ cast and crew to be proud of, in spite of the film’s tonal and scripting faults. Each location, scouted by Joe Cockroll, is perfect and the subtler visual effects are well realised. What the film lacks is nuance and an awareness of its own boundaries. By the time one poor character’s severed head is used to throttle another, any sense of grace is long since lost.