This 1967 film from the Hammer studios is a thinly disguised retelling of the story of Queen Boudicca and the Inceni revolt against Roman rule in AD60.
BARBARISM OF THE MAD EMPEROR!
When King Priam the wise and noble leader of the Iceni and ancient British tribe who live in peace alongside Roman rule dies he wishes on his deathbed that his kingdom be jointly ruled by his daughter Salina and the Roman governor Justinian a fair minded Roman and friend to the Iceni. It's not long before Salina and Justinian fall in love and Salina has to consider her duty to her people against her wish to be with Justinian. However bigger problems soon face Salina and Justinian. Their joint rule does not please the bloodthirsty Druids on one side and the more warmongering Romans on the other. Soon both factions begin plotting to bring down Salina and while Justinian is lured away to put down a Druid revolt in Anglesey, Salina is deposed, imprisoned and a bloody conflict ensues which will pit the two lovers against each other.
On the whole the film rather loosely follows the real events involving Queen Boudicca although all the names have changed. In reality the Iceni King Prasutagus father of Boudicca left his kingdom to be ruled jointly and equally amongst his daughters and the Roman Emperor. His wishes were not followed and the kingdom was taken by the Romans as if it had been conquered. Boudicca was publically flogged and her daughters raped. Later when the roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was leading a campaign in Anglesey Boudicca took the opportunity to revolt and led her forces to destroy the Roman towns of Camulodunum (present day Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (now St Albans) before facing the governor's forces on returning from Anglesey.
So a little artistic licence has been taken in creating a love story between the central characters and the involvement of the druids as fierce warrior priests is only conjecture. I also don't know what Vikings have to do with any story set in Roman Britain but I suppose from the point of view of attracting a high box office audience Vikings are a bigger draw than the Iceni. Taking all this into account this film is probably as (if not more) historically faithful than most other historical adventures that have been made over the years.
"MEN ROASTED ALIVE IN THE CAGE OF HELL!"
OK enough of the history lesson...what's the film like! First it has to be said that this is a slight departure for the Hammer studios since in this period they are better known for their horror features. However this was not a side project for Hammer as shown by the film's more reasonable budget and it was hoped it would repeat the significant success at the box office that other of their historical (or pre-historical) adventures such as 'She' and 'One Million Years B.C.' had had in previous years. Both those films had starred beautiful women, in 'She' it was former Bond girl Ursula Andress and in 'One Million Years B.C.' it was famously a fur bikini clad Raquel Welch. It was hoped that the film would introduce a young Finnish starlet, busty ex-model Carita Järvinen (known as Carita in the credits) to a wider audience and make her into an international star and sex symbol. Unfortunately Carita has long since faded in the cinematographic memory for most film fans. So what went wrong?
The story has all the right elements for a great historical adventure, bloody battle scenes, political treachery and intrigue, a strong love story at the centre of it all and Chariots with spinning blades on their wheels! In the case of the 'Viking Queen' the fault lies primarily with the central performance of its star Carita. She looks the part, her beautiful Nordic features and shapely body make an elegant sight as the Queen of the ancient Britain's however her acting lacks passion and the emotional intensity that the part demands. This is not helped by her very strong accent that stalls the fluency of some of her more important speeches. She also fails to create an on screen chemistry with her American co-star and love interest Don Murray.
Murray was well known leading man by this stage in his career, after having received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his first screen role alongside Marilyn Monroe in the 50's 'Bustop'. Despite his acting credentials he doesn't quite convince as a Roman...not many American actors do, we seem to expect Romans to speak with an English accent in order to make them convincing. This flaw at the centre of the film does rather make the whole of the project into a failure.
Having said this there are some good performances on view as well. As always with Hammer the supporting actors are some of the best known English character actors of the time. Justinian's troublesome second in command Octavian is played by long time Hammer favourite Andrew Kier who starred in a Hammer classic 'Quatermass and the Pit' that same year. Patrick Troughton soon to become the second Doctor also ham's it up as Tristram the Queen's loyal friend and advisor. The film also provides an early outing for British starlet Nicola Pagett as Queen Salina's younger sister, Pagett is fine in this film and unlike Carita went on to some success in later TV roles most famously in the original 'Upstairs Downstairs'. My favourite turn though was Donald Houston an actor who was in many fine films in the 50's and 60's. Here he plays the evil scheming Druid Maelgan, his mop of wild hair is matched only by the manic nature of his performance (think of Brian Blessed on speed!) as he steals almost every scene from those around him, he even gets to roast a man alive!
"BLADED CHARIOTS OF DEATH!"
As I said not all aspects of the film are bad. The look of it is realistic; the Roman and Druid costumes and set design are more than acceptable for its budget which exceeded £350,000 quite a sum for a British made 60's historical drama and the set piece battle scenes especially those featuring the rampaging Iceni on their fearsome chariots are quite impressive. What was less convincing is the appearance of the Iceni villagers who looked like they were extras stepped off the set of 'One Million Years B.C.'. I think people had gone beyond caveman fashions by AD60! The filming took place in the rolling Irish countryside around Ardmore studios which doubles up well for ancient East Anglia. The pace of the film is handled well by director Don Chaffey who had scored successes with 'Jason And The Argonauts' (1963) and 'One Million Years B.C.' (1965) and went on to further heights in TV directing many episodes of classic serials from 'The Prisoner', 'The Avengers', 'The Protectors', 'Charlie's Angle's' and 'TJ Hooker'!
What works less well is the inclusion of quite a bit of gratuitous sex and violence which I assume Hammer felt was needed to titillate the audience. The sexual content is not strong by today's standards, there are plenty of female breasts on show throughout as scantily dressed servant girls are used to emphasise the depravity and debauchery of the Romans but this is rather mild when compared to modern day Roman based shows like 'Rome' or 'Spartacus- Blood and Sand' for instance. Violent scenes are a little more pronounced as we get our fair share of stabbings, torture and disembowelling. The most controversial scene though is when sex and violence come together and we see Queen Salina stripped to the waist and publically flogged.
Unfortunately despite her good looks Carita doesn't have the screen presence of Ursula Andress, Raquel Welsh or many other Hammer starlets used over the years and this is a serious flaw that the film never recovers from. All in all 'The Viking Queen' is not one of Hammer's finest moments but it is still a fun historical romp which is fine to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
TECHNICAL DETAILS AND BONUS MATERIAL
Don Murray ... Justinian
Carita ... Salina
Donald Houston ... Maelgan
Andrew Keir ... Octavian
Adrienne Corri ... Beatrice
Niall MacGinnis ... Tiberian
Wilfrid Lawson ... King Priam
Nicola Pagett ... Talia
Percy Herbert ... Catus
Patrick Troughton ... Tristram
The film is 1 hour and 31 minutes and carries a UK 12 years and over certificate mainly for some mild sexual content and nudity as well as some implied violence.
Screen Fullscreen 4:3, languages English - Dolby Digital (1.0) Mono.
My copy of 'The Viking Queen' is from the Hammer collection and as is common with these released doesn't have much in the way of bonus materials. In fact this DVD is quite poor even by the standards of the rest of the Hammer collection presentations. We only get the original Screen trailer as a bonus item. To be fair the trailer is worth watching since it manages to sensationalise all the sex and violence seen in the film to great effect to the extent that you might actually be disappointed with the content of the film.
'The Viking Queen' can be bought from Play.com for £4.49 including free delivery at the time this review was written.
Recommended (on a wet Sunday afternoon).
© Mauri 2011