Robert Eggers directs The Northman, a meticulously crafted epic saga of Viking revenge, starring Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, a 10th-century Norse prince who flees his homeland after witnessing a gruesome act, only to return years later as a seasoned berserker determined to avenge the ferocity inflicted on his family.
With an ensemble cast, including Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Claes Bang, Willem Dafoe and Björk, The Northman revisits Norse myths, Icelandic sagas and Viking legends through Eggers’ focus on authentic art and details. The film will arrive in Italian cinemas from 21 April. In the meantime, a video, exclusively on Sky TG24, tells us how the wonderful costumes worn by the protagonists of the film were created
The Northmandress up the Vikings
Costume designer Linda Muir was tasked with creating outfits for three distinct cinematic worlds in The Northmanrepresenting different cultures and traditions, and involving hundreds of extras.
The film also marked his first experience in designing helmets and armor. “The large number of costumes was a huge challenge,” says Muir. “Our costume supervisor came up with the numbers: 158 designs from which we made 918 hand-sewn main pieces. Queen Gudrún alone wears 20 models of the same design, each for different purposes ”.
Muir began her exhaustive research on the Viking Era by reading the Sagas of the Icelanders, a body of medieval literature describing the lives and actions of Norse men and women who first settled in Iceland around the year 870. “But the sagas were written 200 years after the period we were focusing on, which is the 10th century,” adds Muir. The costumes she wanted to research didn’t exist.
She relied on the online lessons of the Viking author and scholar Neil Price to better understand the Viking mentality and their belief system, without being able to get much information about clothing.
“The big problem with Viking Age clothing is the lack of specimens left: there are fragments, but not a single complete garment, let alone a whole dress,” says the costume designer. “Furthermore, there are no written accounts of daily life of the period, as an oral tradition still existed for another 200 years. There is no precise information on the colors, style and manufacturing techniques of the clothes “.
After consulting books on cutting and sewing early medieval clothing, she scoured online sites that design and sell clothes for Viking figures. Through this community, she found weavers for twill and armor wool, as well as other clothing and accessories.
He visited the British Museum to collect other medieval details and then turned to movie rentals in London, Rome and Madrid, where he found some elements to use on the screen. For The NorthmanMuir had to make every piece from scratch, including armor.
His research led to the creation of 120 original costumes. For the Slavic villagers, Baltic slaves, domestic workers and high and low ranking Viking women and men it took about 750 men’s clothing and 430 women’s clothing.
The Northmanbetween knights, queens and seers
The production was divided into three distinct cinematic worlds, each requiring different costumes in terms of the character’s wealth, rank and social standing. The first world, an island kingdom, needed high-ranking Viking clothing fit for royalty, as well as chain mail and paraphernalia for a squad of mounted assassins.
The second world, one of the most elaborate in the film in terms of the range of designs created by Muir, is the Land of the Rus, where Amleth and the berserkers raid a Slavic village in the height of summer. Here were models with Eastern European influences, such as linen tunics, fur battle costumes (including elaborate animal headdresses), lavishly embroidered dresses for the Slavic village women, and a stunning ensemble for the mysterious seer, played by Björk.
“The art of embroidery was a spiritual act in this type of village as well as a means of communication, and her costume reflects her status as a super communicator for the village, and for the gods,” says Muir. “If every woman embroiders her benevolent hopes for her family on her clothes, then the seer ‘writes’ for the whole community. I use the verb ‘to write’ because it seems that at that time the Slavic word for ’embroider’ is what we now use to ‘write’ ”.
In the film, Björk wears the same linen dress as the Slav villagers, including Olga played by Anya Taylor-Joy, but the accessories she displays in her brief appearance elevate her to an otherworldly level that exudes power and awe: her long dress. it is entirely covered with embroidery; her open front skirt was made up of vertically hand-stitched intertwined belts and embellished with bells made especially for the film; the birch bark armguards are held in place by thin bands intertwined with tablets; and the actress’s headdress is the version of a traditional Ukrainian bridal headdress. She is “married” to the gods.
“Robert imagined Björk with a headdress made of wheat, but in the end ours was barley with a section of linen embroidered on his forehead to which we hung gold rings and threads of cowrie shells that hid his missing eyes “says Muir, who found the glass beads for the headdress at a Viking festival in York. “We made eighteen different necklaces for the Slavic witch alone”.
For the animal headdresses worn during the berserker raid, Muir turned to an Italian creature design couple, a sculptor and a furrier, who modeled the heads of animals in Rome. In total, thirteen wolf and bear headdresses were designed, while a unique piece was made for Skarsgård, as his animal spirit during the raid is a hybrid of the two.
The third cinematic world in the film is Fjölnir’s family farm in Iceland, where Muir predominantly used wool to create high-ranking, albeit not ostentatious, garments for the four main members of the family, including furry wool cloaks for Fjölnir. , robes with long trains for Queen Gudrún, and simple linen robes for her two young sons – each conveying an air of prosperity through crisp, beautiful lines. A world away from the magical world of the Slavs.
Muir had to dress up supernatural characters in the first two worlds, including the corpse-dwelling Mound Warrior King who comes back to life during a ritual scene with Amleth. “Actor Ian Whyte is over two meters tall, and our prosthetic department created a head and hands that made him look like a skeleton,” says Muir. “His costume was supposed to look like it covered the bones, so we made his clothing rotten and frayed, with gilded armguards and leggings and a silver and gold helmet.”
Working with armor designer Giampaolo Grassi, Muir to accentuate armory styles for her work on The Northman, turned to Viking-era illustrator Andrew Cefalu. “Viking armies often dressed according to status, so we had to have a variety of looks,” says the costume designer. “The low-ranking infantry soldier could have minimal skin protection, while the higher-ranking Vikings wore elaborate chain mail and metal helmets.”
Eggers had extremely special demands on the fit of the helmets in The Northman, adding further work for Muir and her team of costume designers. “She wanted a snug fit, and for helmets with eyebrows or metal masks, the eye openings and nose guard length had to be precise and exact,” concludes Muir.