Tag Archives: Haakon Haakonsson

Film review: ‘The Last King’

I posted the trailer for the Norwegian film The Last King a little while back. You might be able to see it in a theater (I did) but if not, it’s available (I believe) on Netflix. Or will be soon.

In the 13th Century, Norway is torn by civil wars. The opposing forces are the Birkebeiners (birchlegs), devoted to the current dynasty, and the Baglers (crosiers), loyal to the church, which has placed Norway under papal ban.

The young king, Haakon Sverreson, is poisoned to death by his wicked stepmother, the queen mother. When the news gets out, loyal Birkebeiners, Skjervald and Torstein, receive Haakon’s infant son, Haakon Haakonsson, from his mother in order to carry him by ski from Lillehammer to Trondheim, to keep him out of the hands of the Baglers. Their journey becomes a perilous one, as ruthless Bagler warriors pursue them over the mountains. Meanwhile intrigue in the palace in Trondheim leads to betrayal, false imprisonment, and murder.

The Last King is a competent historical action movie. It’s not as great as it wants to be, but the fight scenes and the music are pretty good (especially the music).

Historically, the film is about at the level of Braveheart, which is to say any resemblance to actual events is mostly coincidental. The Baglers (as is the practice in most historical epics) are painted as evil incarnate, capable of any atrocity in their ruthless devotion to the pope. The actual ski journey (assuming it actually happened; historians aren’t sure) was strenuous but not nearly this dangerous. The Game of Thrones-style intrigue and betrayal at the palace is almost entirely fictional. The evil Duke Gisli of this film actually never existed – he’s a place holder for a real Duke Haakon (that name might have confused the audience), who wasn’t particularly evil at all.

Worth seeing. Netflix stuff; probably not worth driving to a theater for. Subtitled.

‘The Last King’

I figure I’d better share this film trailer with you, though I’m a little torn. I shall explain below.

The story of the Birkebeiners and the little king is a classic set piece of Norwegian history. The Birkebeiners were a political party/fighting group, mostly based in northern Norway. Baby King Haakon Haakonsson (his actual patrimony is somewhat in doubt, but that was more the rule than the exception in Norway during the dynastic wars) was spirited over the mountains by two faithful retainers on skis, to save his life from the forces of the Bagler party. In time he survived to be king and end the civil wars.

The Birkebeiners (birchlegs) got their name from a legend that they were so poor at the beginning that they had to wrap birch bark around their legs for warmth in the winter. The Bagler party, which had its strength in the south, was more aristocratic and was allied with the church. “Bagler” comes from the word for a bishop’s crosier.

I personally have long had Bagler sympathies, as one of their leaders was a nobleman who lived at a place where some of my ancestors came from. Thus I like to think he was an ancestor.

On the other hand, Haakon Haakonsson built the big stone church at Avaldsnes, where my great-grandfather was baptized. So I guess I can suspend my partisanship for a couple hours and see this movie.

Coming June 17. It won’t be in a lot of theaters, but it will be available on Netflix.