Norway, the early 13th century. Civil war rages, neighbouring countries attack, and plots within the king’s own court want him dead. The church wants to take control of the country and put in place their own leader, loyal to the pope. As he dies, the king reveals he has an illegitimate son, Håkon, born in secret and kept hidden. Knowing that this heir to the throne can unravel their conspiracy, the plotters set out to have the young baby murdered. Those loyal to the king and the crown fight to ensure the future-king is kept safe.
Two warriors (Game of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju and Jakob Oftebro, a noted Scandinavian actor from series like 1864 and Lilyhammer) are charged with protecting the boy from the half of Norway that wants him dead, no matter the cost. So begins a mix of in-fighting and scheming in the court, as the king’s two brothers Inge (Thorbjørn Harr) and the traitorous Gisle (Pål Sverre Hagen) come into conflict, and action with two men and a baby out in the snowy wilderness. They must survive being hunted and fight off attacks as those who wish to destroy the king’s bloodline seek to stop Håkon from reaching safety.
Although made in Norwegian, it clearly has an eye on international markets. Subtitles are these days no impediment to a film being a broad success and indeed it’s become something of an attraction for many people, immersing oneself in another culture and language via entertainment. Shows like the aforementioned HBO behemoth and History’s Vikings have introduced the template this film follows, and so its story of Norwegian history is no limit to drawing in viewers. It’s also serious scenery-porn, people. Norway in winter is by itself stunning, and the filmmakers take full advantage of nature’s set dressing to the extent that don’t be surprised if you finish the film practically booking your holiday out there.
The Last King isn’t going to fill any GoT-shaped hole in your life. It’s nothing especially new (though the use of skis by the warriors was something different), many characters are fairly broadly-sketched, the politics in court is of the familiar-by-now backstabbing sort, and overall the film is slight. However, The Last King might have only a small portion of the budget afforded a big series or film, but it’s confidently made and zips along quickly. It is a well-acted, well-shot, well-done film and is entertaining enough, certainly worth a rental or catching on television. But if you have a particularly special thing for the current vogue of men with big beards doing manly things, then it’s worth seeking out.
THE LAST KING / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NILS GAUP / SCREENPLAY: RAVN LANESSKOG / STARRING: KRISTOFER HIVJU, JAKOB OFTEBRO, THORBJORN HARR, PAL SVERRE HAGEN / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 3RD