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The Viking Queen
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE VIKING QUEEN (1967)

Starring: Carita, Don Murray, Don Huston, Andrew Keir, Adrienne Corri

Written By: Clarke Reynolds, John Temple-Smith (story) Directed By: Don Chaffey

The Short Version

Hammer can’t tell the difference between a Viking and a Celt; this is about the latter.

Very liberally reinterpreted take on the story of Boadicea, or Boudicca, or whatever name you prefer.

Don Houston puts the “Ham” in “Hammer,” and it stops being fun after a while.

Really pathetic combat and other half-assed measures sabotage the movie’s potential.

The Viking Queen should have been a much better movie than this, but alas, it’s a waste.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

HAM & CHEESE.

The first few helpings are fine, but after a while, it gets kinda old.


Pairs Well With...

CORONA LIGHT.

In a word: weak.

“If any virgins are to be sacrificed, it will be to us!”


In 1957, Hammer Studios revitalized horror and by most accounts literally saved the British film industry with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein.  From that point forward, they would be known primarily as the House of Horror (a subtitle they officially gave themselves for television later on), but occasionally, they’d stray away from the gothic and try something different.  One of these forays came in the form of The Viking Queen.

Alas, the fact that the studio has strayed away from its core competency is brutally obvious.

Our story takes place in the province of Britannia, a hundred years after the time of Julius Caesar.  Romans theoretically rule here, but there is still great power in the hands of the native chieftains and kings.  King Priam (Wilfrid Lawson, in his final role) of the Iceni is one of them, and he is dying.  Hoping to maintain peace in his land when he is gone, he wills the Iceni kingdom jointly to the Roman Emperor and to his daughter, Salina (Carita, in her only role).

To Justinian (Don Murray, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), the Roman Governor General, this is a fair and equitable arrangement for all concerned, and he is pleased with it.  Others whose power is diminished, however, do not, including Justinian’s second in command, Octavian (Andrew Keir, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb), and the Chief of the Druids, Maelgan (Don Houston, Clash of the Titans).  For these men, sharing power is out of the question, and the only way to true peace and order is through the blood drenched corpses of the other side.  And so begins a web of conspiracy to shatter the peace that King Priam sought to maintain with his will, and in the end, Queen Salina shall have no choice to take up the sword against Justinian, even though he is in fact the man she loves…

The Viking Queen is, simply put, a complete mess.

We expect “historical” pictures – especially those set in the sword and sandal era – to play fast and loose with history, and The Viking Queen is especially sloppy at it.  While it is also true that The Viking Queen makes no claims about telling a true story of any kind, the stuff that Hammer gets wrong is so dreadfully obvious that there’s still no excuse for it.  Calling the Queen of the Iceni “The Viking Queen” is like calling John F. Kennedy “The Japanese President.”  It just doesn’t fly.  But apparently someone at Hammer decided that The Viking Queen would sell better than The Celtic Queen.  (Had they waited twenty-five years, perhaps they might have felt differently?)

And then there’s the little detail about the Druids always calling out to their great and legendary god, Zeus.  Yes, Zeus.  Lord of… um… Mistletoe.  And stuff.

Ah, what the hell.  If we can have Viking Celts, why not Greek Druids, right?

The story of The Viking Queen will be almost instantly recognizable as a repainted lift on that of Boadicea, or Boudicca, or however one cares to spell her name in this decade, as the fashion on that tends to change.  With that said, it’s definitely for the best that no claims on history are made, because the real Boadicea was certainly never the lover of a Roman official, and she actually fared much better for her brief go at a revolt than Salina does.  But then again, the total destruction of a Roman city wasn’t exactly in Hammer’s budget.  Nor was a Roman city at all, for that matter; here, the Romans live in tents, despite their permanent occupation of the country. 

Don’t bother asking this movie to make sense; you’ll never get anywhere if you do.  Sense, like a real Roman city, just wasn’t in Hammer’s budget.

And sometimes, that’s okay.  Really.  So what if no one in his or her right mind is going to buy Carita as a real queen?  At least she doesn’t stink up the place (and more to Hammer’s own point, she does live up to the studio’s well-understood standard for finding lovely ladies).  Yeah, it’d be nice if she didn’t wince whenever she has to swing a sword or whip a horse, but if believing Carita as a queen and taking the historical mess at face value were all anyone had to do to make The Viking Queen work, then we’d have ourselves an hour and a half of sword and sandal fun and be done with it.

But no; Hammer doesn’t want to make it that easy on the audience.

Not only didn’t Hammer want to pay for a Roman city, but they also didn’t want to pay for Roman soldiers.  Or Celtic warriors, for that matter; or Vikings or whatever the hell you want to call them.  There’s really no more appropriate term to describe the combat in The Viking Queen than “pathetic.”  This is truly the most limp-wristed excuse for swordplay that you’ll ever see; it’s not just a matter of costumed extras using swords as clubs, but rather a matter of almost every person seeming to be afraid to swing them at all.  When the Roman legion throws a volley of spears, they barely do better than dropping them from head height.  Even ten minutes’ worth of instruction could have produced results ten times better than this; there really is no excuse for the silliness that ends up on the screen, no matter how small the budget was.

One suspects that someone thought of this already, because the filmmakers did come ready with a distraction.  Specifically, they went for skin, and lots of it.  Of course, given that this was filmed in 1966 and not just a few years later, there’s no actual nudity to be had in The Viking Queen, but the film comes as close as it possibly can without showing the real thing.  This is accomplished by many different means, from conveniently placed objects to hands to, in one case, pasties, and most popularly of all, through that camera angle and/or costuming technique best known in frat houses as the “side boob” shot.  If they can’t deliver a war show, then at least Hammer will try to deliver a peep show, albeit a cheap one.

[During the course of their peep show, Hammer also unfortunately delves into the realm of flagrant racism.  There is a character credited as “Nubian Girl/Slave” played by Nita Lorraine, who is very obviously a Caucasian woman greased up with body paint to darken her skin.  You’d think that this sort of foolishness ended sometime around the Depression, but alas, it did not.  You’ll also notice that even though Hammer went to the extra expense of full body paint just to cast a white woman instead of a black one, they had no qualms about casting a truly black man in another slave’s role.  The reasoning, sadly, is obvious: the girl is a sex slave who very obviously has sex with white men.  Feel free to be disgusted; it was disgusting even forty-five years ago when they did it.  Shame on them.]

Beyond the bad battles and beyond the silly peep show, what Hammer leaves us with is a tale of political double cross set atop the story of a love that can never be.  Say what you will about the film, but The Viking Queen is nothing if not ambitious, even if it fails in its ambitions.  The political machinations are presented with all seriousness, but since the rest of the movie is impossible to take seriously, they, too fall flat.  It doesn’t help that the biggest conniver of all, the Druid Maelgan, is completely hammed up to a degree that puts an American televangelist to shame.  If you hadn’t already picked up on the fact that these Druids worship Zeus, don’t worry; Maelgan will remind you at every chance he gets.  Unfortunately, thanks apparently to a constant diet of ham and cheese sandwiches, actor Don Houston will further make sure that he does so loudly and with many wild gesticulations.  The first few million times, this is actually funny in a “lampoon it for Bad Movie Night” sort of way, but about halfway through the film, it crosses the annoyance line and into the realm of “shut this jackass up, willya?”

And when it’s all over… it’s just over.  I hate to spoil an ending but… there are some stories where everyone dies at the end and it all somehow makes sense and feels satisfying.  Those stories tend to be told in Japan, and Hammer doesn’t know how to do it right.  One can try to salvage some deeper caution about the senselessness of war if one wishes to, but honestly, I don’t think that or any other intent was there.  The Viking Queen is just a weak movie where everybody loses.

Including, alas, the audience.

Bottom line, The Viking Queen could have been a far better movie than it turns out to be, and indeed, it should have been.  Even harmless mediocrity would have been better than the complete mess that shows up instead.  Unfortunately, save for being possible lampoon fodder on a Bad Movie Night, The Viking Queen ends up as one Hammer flick that’s definitely very easy to skip.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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