A ludicrous fantasy so full of implausibilities and anachronisms that it makes its Hammer cousin One Million Years BC look like documentary veracity in comparison, The Viking Queen tells the story of the conflicts in one small English kingdom during the Roman imperium between the “viking” queen Salina (Carita Järvinen), Druid priests, scheming merchants, the occupying soldiers and the usual hapless peasants. The Romans, in turn, are split between the well meaning Justinian (Don Murray) and his troublesome lieutenant, Octavian (Andrew Keir). Aside from a love affair between Salina and Justinian, the characters’ motives and interactions seem limited to sheer bloody-mindedness for its own sake.
Queen unfolds with characteristic Hammer visual panache, and it is staged on an unusually large scale. Usually, however, Hammer invention is in the service of irrationally compelling and convincing scripts. When the stories are uneven, the conviction of the actors often helps considerably to overcome our skepticism, either by running right over the implausibilities or by creating characters so interesting in themselves that we don’t much care whether any of the action makes sense.
Unfortunately, while Keir makes a believably brutish Octavian, Murray, the only American in the cast, is hopelessly out of place, trying to convey authority by raising his voice and stomping his feet like a petulant four year old. At best, his failings as an actor accidentally parallel Justinian’s failure as a leader. Järvinen struggles mightily to overcome her accent, but she needn’t bother, since she clearly was cast for her looks. She nonetheless seems like Bernhardt herself compared to Donald Huston’s Maelgan, the head Druid priest. Huston shouts, snarls, and repeatedly points an outstretched arm at whomever is unfortunate enough to be opposite. After his performance, it’s a wonder there is any scenery left to chew. And just why do actors equate grinding their teeth with High Drama?
For their part, the writers seem to equate High Drama with plot complications, for what the script lacks in emotional involvement, it makes up in narrative confusion. Things start to fall apart in Carita’s kingdom when the local merchants and Druids conspire with Octavian to undo Salina and Justinian’s popularity. The bad guys don’t like the progressive income tax(!) that Justinian imposes, (no, really) so they hatch an elaborate plot that requires almost as much exposition as it does pointless movement back and forth across Britain.
This schematic, dime-store Marxism would be funny if it weren’t a sign of strenuous over-reaching throughout. All the shouting, fighting and scheming in Queen amounts to very little that was not explicit in the situation from the beginning. Maelgan predicts that Salina will eventually lead her people against the Romans, and when his predictions come true, it feels less like an inevitability than the excuse for dragging things out for an hour and a half. Charitably, you can call The Viking Queen ambitious. Realistically, it’s better described as just plain silly.