Take a voy­age in the wake of war­riors

Vik­ings’ rich cul­ture is ex­posed in a new TV drama, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

FROM the cre­ator of The Tu­dors, Michael Hirst, comes the new his­tor­i­cal drama Vik­ings, which chron­i­cles the ex­ploits of the fiercest war­riors of all time, the Vik­ing tribes of Scan­di­navia circa the eighth cen­tury.

The story fol­lows young farmer and war­rior Rag­nar Loth­brok (played by Aus­tralian ac­tor Travis Fim­mel) as he strug­gles against the tra­di­tions of his peo­ple to break away and ex­plore new lands in search of riches and wis­dom. Michael, with pre­vi­ous projects such as The Tu­dors and the film El­iz­a­beth, you’ve had ac­tual peo­ple, ac­tual events as a foun­da­tion for your sto­ry­telling. Vik­ings’ cen­tral char­ac­ter, Rag­nar, is a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure but did the scope of this story pose a big­ger chal­lenge than you’ve faced be­fore?

That ques­tion raises very in­ter­est­ing and pro­found thoughts in con­sid­er­ing how one can turn his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial into drama. In The Tu­dors, there’s an im­mense amount writ­ten about Henry VIII alone.

Sim­i­larly with El­iz­a­beth, there’s a great amount of ma­te­rial to work from. When it comes to my re­search and read­ing I’m look­ing for a hook, a way into the ma­te­rial, and I re­mem­ber very dis­tinctly when it came to El­iz­a­beth that no one knew about her as a young woman be­fore she be­came this great queen. And with The Tu­dors, I de­ter­mined it was as much about his wives as it was about him.

With Vik­ings, their era spans 400 years and so it was partly about find­ing a hero. Rag­nar be­came an ob­vi­ous way in be­cause he was the first of the great Vik­ing lead­ers to emerge out of the mists of myth and le­gend – he was around when the Vik­ings came west for the first time. Ul­ti­mately he did amaz­ing things – he in­vaded Paris – and he had this won­der­fully com­pli­cated love life and

Vik­ings in­cred­i­ble sons. I al­ways write about peo­ple, about fam­i­lies, and Vik­ings is a fam­ily saga as well. While there’s a chal­lenge in­volved, I imag­ine it’s also en­joy­able hav­ing such a wealth of his­tory to draw from?

Se­lec­tion and shap­ing ma­te­rial is what writ­ers do, giv­ing ma­te­rial a dra­matic shape. I started off writ­ing movies and didn’t know I could even write se­ries tele­vi­sion be­fore The Tu­dors. But I found I loved do­ing it; I love spend­ing time with th­ese peo­ple. The idea that I can stay with them, de­velop them over time, ex­plore them and keep find­ing out new things about them is won­der­ful. It’s one of the rea­sons I write all of Vik­ings my­self – I don’t want to give it away!

The word Vik­ing sum­mons th­ese rather nasty, vi­o­lent im­ages. But their cul­ture was writ­ten about by hos­tile wit­nesses and most of us have grown up with the idea of th­ese bru­tal raiders and pil­lagers. I dis­cov­ered it wasn’t al­to­gether like that. They were war­riors, of course, but their cul­ture was richer and more in­ter­est­ing than one might imag­ine. They were very demo­cratic. Their at­ti­tude to­wards women was en­light­ened when com­pared to other cul­tures at the time. They were clean!

And I loved their re­li­gious and spir­i­tual out­look . I knew the bat­tles would go down well but the pa­gan­ism, the re­li­gious rit­u­als, was an­other mat­ter. That as­pect of Vik­ings has been well re­ceived by view­ers. In my re­search, I read about a Vik­ing who be­lieved he was de­scended from Odin, who was not only a fear­some god but also a god of cu­rios­ity – Odin sac­ri­ficed an eye to look into the Well of Knowl­edge.

And I thought Rag­nar would have the same cu­rios­ity. When he raids, it’s not only for plun­der – it’s to sat­isfy his cu­rios­ity about what the rest of the world is like. So in cast­ing him, I wanted some­one with still­ness, depth and as phys­i­cal pres­ence. I wanted a real man – some­one con­vinc­ing wield­ing an axe but in­tel­li­gent as well. When you look into Travis’ eyes, you see a mind at work.

Vik­ings: Thurs­days, 8.35pm, SBS1.

Travis Fim­mel stars in What was it about Vik­ing cul­ture that made you want to bring it to the screen?

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