Profile: Nicolas Winding Refn

Profile: Nicolas Winding Refn

1970 Copenhagen, Denmark

After coming to prominence by re-sculpting his 1996 hit Pusher into an accomplished drug-trilogy, Danish writer/director Winding Refn’s controversial Bronson won him plaudits for coaxing a remarkable performance from Tom Hardy as Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Refn’s follow up, Valhalla Rising, was co-written by Roy Jacobsen and shot in Scotland, featuring Mads Mikkelsen as One-Eye, the toughest warrior of 1000AD.

How would you pitch Valhalla Rising?
‘To me, it’s more like a science-fiction film than a conventional epic. It’s about characters who are not so much travellers by foot or boat, but pioneers who feel like they are travelling into space. And to them, where they’re going is beyond science, beyond anything they know, and the one best equipped to survive is One-Eye who goes from slave, to beast, to warrior, god and then man. That’s the journey we set out to describe.’

How did you make the jump between Charles Bronson and One-Eye?
‘Charles Bronson was a man who connected great art and violence in his head, and Valhalla Rising looks like one of the first paintings that Bronson might have done. I had the story in mind from when I was 17, of a mute warrior, and of doing a film that was an action movie but also a spiritual journey. Like Bronson, this is an art-house movie, but not traditional art-house, something new and different.’

How did shooting in Scotland work out for you?
Very well indeed. We saw that the scenery here could perfectly match the Nordic territories and other locations in the story, while we were also able to go for very civilised meals at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar! It was a shame for the actors, though, in that in the interests of authenticity, we couldn’t let them shave or cut their hair for the duration of the shoot, so they ended up pretty dirty. And we shot up north, around Loch Ness, but no, we didn’t see any sign of the monster.’

Valhalla Rising is on selected release from Fri 30 Apr.

Valhalla Rising

  • 4 stars
  • 2009
  • Denmark / UK
  • 1h 32min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn, Roy Jacobsen
  • Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Jamie Sives, Gary Lewis, Ewan Stewart, Maarten Stevenson

Refn's follow-up to 'Bronson' is a difficult but rewarding slice of historical ultra-realism, with Mikkelsen well up to the task of playing a Viking warrior in a film as uncompromising, unsentimental and deliberately unlovable as its central character.