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Posts Tagged ‘The Viking Queen’

Another year gone by, and (as has become a bit of a tradition) another look at the last twelve months on the blog. Hey, if nothing else it helps to break up the endless flow of film reviews and Doctor Who-related cobblers, right?

Speaking personally, this has been a slightly odd year – the diploma course which really defined the first half of the year for me concluded moderately well, though not quite as well as I’d hoped, and as for the second half… My summer job felt like a bit of a slog for the first time since I started doing it, while throughout this Autumn I’ve felt my relationship with my rest-of-the-year employer growing increasingly strained. Added to this, since the diploma finished I’ve been without a medium-to-long-term goal for the first time since 2006, and it feels like I’ve been drifting and lacking in focus ever since. I’m increasingly realising that I need to keep pushing and challenging myself if I’m not going to lapse into self-absorption and melancholia. As I lead a fairly solitary life, something which I’ve realised is unlikely ever to change, this sort of thing is a constant concern anyway. It’s good to stay self-aware, I suppose.

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Anyway, there were just under 10,000 views of this blog in 2012, which sounds nice but I’ve no idea how it compares to anyone else’s. Naive old fool, I thought I was doing okay with 35 followers after two years, before a friend chirpily informed me that her company’s blog had picked up 250 followers after a week. Over a thousand of those visits all came on the same day, mainly as a result of the Mail on Sunday‘s website publicising my piece on Peter Hitchens and Howard Marks’ debate on drugs laws (oh, the shame, the shame). Obviously I need to write more positive things about Hitchens so he links to me again, and just hope people stick around for the Hammer horror reviews. Well, I’m sure a worse plan is conceivable.

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The Hitchens thing was the biggest draw of the year by far, with the bulk of the rest of the top five being bankers from 2011 – the final instalment of the original run of Natural History of Evil continues to pack ’em in, along with that silly piece about Lacey Banghard and her two great assets (her Christian name and surname, of course). The only 2012 piece to make the list was… the review of 2011 (sigh), mainly, I suspect, because it also talks about Miss Banghard. I suspect a pattern has been established.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

Bringing up the rear was another hardy perennial, the review of The Viking Queen. I am completely stumped as to why this keeps pulling in the readers week after week after week – there isn’t, so far as I can tell, anything accidentally suggestive in there that could confuse a search engine, nor is this a notable cult film. Why are so many people reading this one post and ignoring much better-written material completely? I must confess I’m starting to get mildly irritated by it.

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The bulk of what I’ve written this year has been film reviews, as usual. I thought the overall quality was higher than in 2011, but with fewer really outstanding individual films – the best things I saw at the cinema this year were Lawrence of Arabia (from 1962), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (from 1943) and RoboCop (from 1987). Perhaps I’m being a little unfair, as there were still some great movies being released – Chronicle, The Cabin in the Woods, The Raid and The Imposter all turned out to be off-the-radar hits, while there were some quality blockbusters too – The Avengers was better than it really had any right to be, while The Dark Knight Rises, though not Christopher Nolan at the absolute top of his game, was still hugely impressive and deeply satisfying. Despite all that, if I had to name my favourite film from 2012 it would probably be Searching for Sugar Man. An extremely difficult call though.

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I think I’ve gone on in quite enough detail about my issues with the Autumn’s crop of Doctor Who, especially as the Christmas show has given me hope that a new and much more impressive approach may be in the offing. Obviously 2013 will be a massive year for all of us who love Doctor Who – expectations are enormous, and it’s difficult to imagine quite how the custodians of the show and the BBC will be able to meet them all.

In the end surprisingly little wargaming or serious uke-playing happened this year, mainly because for a large chunk of the Autumn I was either on holiday abroad or in the grip of one of those emotional entanglements which has occasionally complicated my life prior to this point. A shame, because the wargaming and uke-playing would at least have given me material for a worthwhile post or four.

 Expectations for 2013 are guarded, currently: if I can work solidly and feel like I am making some sort of professional progress, and continue to be a good friend and family member to those around me, I will be happy, regardless of whether I can afford a holiday, or World War Z is any good. Although it would be nice to finally get a WFB army painted before 9th Edition appears on the horizon. We shall see.

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I feel the need to mark the passing of one year and the start of another in some form, but not (you may be pleased to hear) in the form of any kind of Best of 2011 list. So this is more a sort of general look back and very brief peek forward.

Getting the tedious stuff out of the way first, speaking personally, 2011 went very nicely for me, despite the fact I didn’t actually make a profit on the year, didn’t have a professional experience as good as the best one of 2010, haven’t managed to resolve any of the dangling personal issues from this time last year, and am still living in a garret. January and early February were rather dark days for me, despite the fact that for the first time ever I got paid for a piece of writing work – I had no idea if I had any kind of future in my chosen profession, and the realisation that the novel manuscript I’d spent November writing was 115,000 words of suck was not an easy one to digest.

However! I received the best birthday present imaginable when an old friend got a new job, and his first act was to give me a new job. I have been there now for ten months (on and off) and have no plans to make a permanent departure either. On top of this I finally managed to scrape a place on a Diploma course and that’s going better than I could have hoped for, too. So there are much worse places I could be in right now. The main priority for the first half of this year is to pass the course, but I would also like to have a slightly smoother summer job experience as well. If the prospect of a hassle-free divorce came along I’d jump at that as well, I expect (any experts on international law reading this, please get in touch) – not because I have any plans or expectations in that arena, but because it’s nice to keep things tidy.

The blog (you’re reading it) has ticked over nicely, boosted somewhat by my decision to back up all my old (2001-2009) film reviews from h2g2 here. As it turned out h2g2 survived the year so this was arguably a waste of time, but it’s nice to have everything together. The decision to change the blog name from So Much More Than This to the (I thought) punchier and more informative current title coincided with the number of average daily visits plummeting by at least two thirds: so there we have it, folks – if you want to be read, be vague.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

Or write about glamour models. My most popular pieces this year (by a country mile) were both gag items about the page 3 girl Lacey Banghard. Slightly depressing but not surprising. Neither depressing nor really surprising were the continuing popularity of old items about Doctor Who bad guys and The Wicker Man (more accurately, photos from The Wicker Man – my actual review of the movie is seldom looked at, but the one for The Man with the Golden Gun is a banker).  Altogether more mysterious is the steady popularity of my thoughts concerning the obscure and rotten Hammer movie The Viking Queen, which is well inside the top 10 list of all-time most popular film reviews. Hmmm.

Carita in The Viking Queen. For some reason I feel I should reiterate that this really was meant to be a serious film.

I wrote less about Doctor Who this year than I would have expected, mainly because I’m not quite sure what to make of the show at the moment – it’s clearly brilliant on so many levels and yet it also routinely leaves me exasperated and unsatisfied. The head writer is brilliant, the regular cast is very good, the writers are mostly great and the inventors are unceasingly inventive – so why is the actual programme no better than ‘pretty good, but…’? I don’t know. I feel a traitorous cur for even voicing these thoughts, to be honest. (Case in point: the Christmas special was so slight and felt – for the most part – so inconsequential that I haven’t bothered to review or even re-watch it. Something is wrong somewhere.)

Masses of film reviews, of course, as you could have guessed. I could gripe about the low standard of behaviour in Oxford multiplexes, or the mixed fortunes of the year, and so on, but I’ve just written a thing all about that as an h2g2 original and I can’t be bothered to recycle it. So, in a nutshell:  the worst film of 2011 was The Three Musketeers, the best three (in reverse order) were Submarine, Never Let Me Go and The Guard, and the one I’m most looking forward to from 2012 is (tough call this one)… The Dark Knight Rises. Never afraid to run with the flock, this blog.

Brendan Gleeson as The Guard, my pick of the year's films.

It’s all gone a bit quiet on the wargamey front, mainly because the Diploma doesn’t allow me the time or money to do it properly. This year was mainly about the new Blood Angels army I’d been considering since 1997. Looks nice and I’m happy with much of it but it turned out to be a tough one to use well. My inability to actually get a WFB army anywhere near finished proved increasingly annoying too. Come August I may be able to do something about this.

I think the uke may be filling the role in my life that wargaming previously took, anyway, in that there’s a very precise technical element to it as well as a personal and creative one. I have no reason to think that the two shouldn’t be able to co-exist once the Diploma is out of the way – I suspect they may actually synergise quite well. We shall see.

Anyway, that was 2011. Despite all the little niggles and annoyances, if 2012 turns out to be of the same standard I don’t think I’ll have grounds for complaint – so fingers crossed and let’s find out.

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Warning: may contain spoilers for the Boudicca Rebellion of 60AD.

‘See the accursed blood rites of the Iceni! See men roasted alive in the cage of Hell! As barbarism and passions inflame a pagan pleasure empire! See the occult terrors of the Druids! As the Roman lash tries to tame the will of a golden goddess!’

Gotta love those mid-Sixties Hammer trailer scripts. We are here, as you may have guessed, to discuss Don Chaffey’s 1967 offering The Viking Queen, from the studio’s peak period when they were wandering quite a long way from their horror and fantasy heartlands. The Viking Queen certainly isn’t either of those – it appears to be Hammer’s crack at doing a sword-and-sandal epic, with more than a dash of the dodgy exploitation movie about it.

Oh well. Our story unfolds in the Roman Empire of the first century, where the subject races are apparently kept in their place solely by stentorian voice-overs and stock footage from other, bigger-budget films. The nicer parts of Britain are currently under the joint rule of local king Priam (yes, I know, we’ll come back to this) and visiting Governor-General Justinian (Don Murray), whose accent suggests he’s come not from Rome but somewhere in California.

Priam snuffs it, following a King Lear-ish scene in which he decides to leave his kingdom to middle daughter Salina (Carita), whose own accent suggests she has recently arrived from Helsinki. The local chief Druid (an almost uncannily bad performance from Donald Houston) prophesies she will wield a sword and that the land will run with blood, but everyone ignores him (perhaps they are hoping he will be cut out of the movie at the editing stage). Justinian and the new Queen strike up a close relationship and, following a spot of recreational charioteering which concludes with them both falling in the river, find that shared possession of dubious accents really can be the basis of romance.

Needless to say, the Druids don’t like the planned wedding of the Queen of the Iceni to the Roman Governor, and nor does Justinian’s brutal second-in-command Octavian (Andrew Keir) – any historians watching the movie will probably also have strenuous objections to make, but it’s just too late, guys. With Justinian’s permission Salina really turns the screws when it comes to taxing the local rich merchants (you could get away with this sort of redistribution of wealth pre-Thatcher), which prompts them to cook up a plan with Octavian to get Justinian off the scene for a bit so normal service can be resumed.

As you might expect, Octavian gets a bit carried away with his reign of terror and before you can say ‘At least One Million Years BC had Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs to soften the impact of the terrible historical accuracy’, Salina and the Britons are painting themselves blue and fixing scythes to their chariots, preparatory to a rebellion against the Romans…

There’s a persistent story that, at one point in The Viking Queen, a Roman soldier comes on wearing a wrist-watch, and that this is fairly indicative of the film’s grasp of historical fact. I, like a few others, have looked for this anachronistic chronometer and been unable to find it – so it may in fact be an apocryphal anachronistic chronometer. Nevertheless, there’s a sense in which it’s quite surprising how much of the general background of the Iceni revolt this film gets broadly correct. Character names and relationships have been changed, but the politics of the story and the progress of the uprising are clearly based on what actually happened (though we don’t get to see London razed to the ground).

However, when it comes to the particulars, the movie energetically gets things wrong with a consistency that’s awe-inspiring, if slightly painful. The Druids, not content with being uniformly badly played, are depicted as worshipping Greek gods. Half the Britons look like medieval serfs, while the rest appear to be cavemen – and while the Druids predict that Salina will ‘wear armour’, the outfit she eventually chooses to go into battle in resembles a fancy dress costume rejected by Jordan on the grounds of excessive tackiness. We have already heard that the king of the Iceni is named Priam – add to this the fact he has subjects named Fergus, Nigel and Osiris and you get an overwhelming sense of a scriptwriter with zero feel for this setting.

Having said that, this movie could just about work as a piece of fluffy, slightly naughty fun, if you were able to buy into the central romance. But you can’t. Carita is just one of a long line of thickly-accented buxom Nordic glamour-pusses imported by Hammer for this kind of role and she brings nothing to the movie but hair, legs, and cleavage. You would expect that a veteran performer like Don Murray would do better, but the fact he’s the only American in the movie is very intrusive, and the screenplay – which never really gives him much to do – increasingly sidelines him. Towards the end he mainly spends a lot of time staring around him in aghast horror, but this may just be a result of finally having read the script. (Murray’s next outing as a governor having to deal with a slave uprising would end less well for him.)

Not all is rotten in The Viking Queen‘s acting department, though, as this film features a number of actors who always seem to make a point of doing the best they can whatever the quality of the script. Most prominent is Andrew Keir, making the most of a rare role as a villain: he’s easily the most convincing character in the movie. Patrick Troughton does his usual sterling work as a British courtier – this was Troughton’s last film for a while as immediately after he went off to do some job or other at the BBC for three years. Niall McGinnis has a smaller role as one of Justinian’s assistants and makes the most of it.

After you’ve been watching The Viking Queen for a while, you become grateful for whatever crumbs you can find, because while the production values are adequate they’re certainly no more than that. The action sequences are hardly lavish, but at least the scenery is nice (County Wicklow in Ireland stands in for Norfolk). Time and again you get the sense of ambition being thwarted by a lack of resources (numbers of extras, leading actresses who can act, supporting artists of the right ethnicity – there’s a horribly obvious example of a woman in blackface (rather more than face, actually) amongst Octavian’s harem). But the problems nearly all start with the script. The Viking Queen would really like to be an epic, romantic tragedy, but its budget can’t run to epic and the romance doesn’t remotely convince. As a result, rather than a tragedy it just comes across as a piece of absurd camp – highly entertaining if approached in the right spirit, but utterly impossible to take seriously.

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