'The Last King': Film Review

The Last King Still 1 H 2016
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Plenty of medieval action, and skiing too!

Nils Gaup's historical epic recounts a famous dramatic episode from Norway's 13th-century civil war.

Don't be worried if you're not terribly familiar with ancient Norwegian history before seeing the latest historical epic from director Nils Gaup (1987's Oscar-nominated Pathfinder). Depicting a famous dramatic episode from the country's 13th-century civil war, The Last King features enough exciting swordplay and skiing — yes, skiing — to keep viewers satiated, especially fans of the not-dissimilar Games of Thrones, whose Kristofer Hivju plays a lead role here.

Set in 1204, the story involves Haakon, the illegitimate infant son of a recently assassinated Norwegian king, who becomes the object of pursuit by the Baglers, largely comprised of the aristocracy and the clergy and intent on seizing the throne. Attempting to spirit the toddler to safety are Torstein (Hivju) and Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro), two soldiers representing the Birkebeinar, the impoverished faction of the people whose name was derived from the birch bark they supposedly used to make their shoes and skis. Their treacherous journey through the snowy wilderness has become legendary in Norway, which still honors it today via such sporting events as an annual ski run.

American viewers would be wise to not attempt to follow the convoluted political intrigue and numerous subsidiary characters but rather simply enjoy the vigorously staged action sequences that are vividly rendered in Peter Mokrosinski's handsome widescreen cinematography. The dynamic ski chases are the most exciting, not to mention novel, element of this medieval epic, although there's plenty of fighting with swords, axes, crossbows and bows and arrows as well. It all looks gorgeous, from the snowy forests and mountaintops to the candlelit interiors to the Northern Lights to the majestic horses to the adorable baby, who — spoiler alert — survives to rule the kingdom for decades.

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Production companies: Newgrange Pictures, Paradox Film 3
Cast: Jakob Oftebro, Kristofer Hivju, Ane Ulimoen, Overli Nikolaj, Lie Kaas, Torkel D Soldal
Director: Nils Gaup
Screenwriter: Ravn Lanesskog

Producers: Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae
Executive producers: Henik Zein, Lone Korslund, Malene Ehlers, Erik Poppe, Jan Petter Dickman, Julius Solheim, Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae
Director of photography: Peter Mokrosinski
Production designer: Karl Juliusson
Editors: Christoffer Heie, Thomas Tang
Costume designer: Margret Einarsdottir
Composer: Gaute Storaas
Casting: Yngvill Kolseth Haga

Rated R, 99 minutes