Ahad, 29 September 2013

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Visit the Dark Ages with 'Vikings'


The History channel's Vikings are kinder and gentler than what we're used to seeing. And that's okay.

HAVE the Vikings gotten a bum rap?

At least, according to popular imagination, they were fearsome barbarians in horned helmets who pillaged their way across Northern Europe during the Dark Ages. And while it's true these seafaring Norsemen were hardly a bunch of peaceniks, the new History channel scripted series Vikings will attempt to bring some nuance to the caricature of the bearded brutes.

"The great thesis is, 'You think you know the Vikings, but you don't'," said series creator Michael Hirst.

The series represents uncharted territory in more ways than one: At 10 episodes, it will be History's first full-length, scripted programme, arriving on the heels of the massively successful miniseries Hatfields & McCoys and accompanying the debut of the channel's new miniseries The Bible.

Vikings marks the latest step in History's dramatic makeover in recent years from a stodgy and largely irrelevant channel that played a seemingly infinite loop of WWII documentaries to a top-five cable network and industry trendsetter.

As the screenwriter of the film Elizabeth and all 38 episodes of the cable series The Tudors, Hirst has a knack for bringing epic historical tales vividly to life. His latest series, set in the late 8th-century Scandinavia, will join a rather short list of sympathetic pop cultural depictions of the Viking people.

"They're always 'the other'. They're the guys who smash down your door and ravish and kill you and take your possessions – perpetual bad guys," Hirst said by telephone from his home in Britain.

Travis Fimmel and Katheryn Winnick star in History channel's Vikings.

Fimmel and Katheryn Winnick, who plays Lothbrok's wife Lagertha in Vikings.

Of course, a brave and hunky protagonist can make any number of sins more palatable to the contemporary viewer. Vikings has Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary Norse hero who led raids on France and England. Played by Australian actor and former Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel, Ragnar is a visionary family man who clashes with ruthless tribal leader Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) over his plan to explore the uncharted waters to the west.

"It's like any other drama: the first rule is to get you involved in the characters. They don't have to be nice, they have to be powerful and they have to be compulsively watchable," Hirst said.

Hirst took pains to emphasise the Vikings' positive contributions to Western civilisation; their rich mythology and surprisingly progressive gender politics – who knew? – all figure prominently in the series, which was filmed over five months at the brand-new Ashford Studios in County Wicklow, Ireland.

For Nancy Dubuc, president of entertainment and media for A&E Networks, scripted content has been a dream since she took over the reins at History in 2007.

"We can't be the well-rounded and powerful brand that we are without bringing this form of storytelling to our network," she said. "But I also believed very firmly that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it to win, not just to play," she said.

History was attracted to Vikings – initially developed by MGM Television and the Irish producer Morgan O'Sullivan – largely because of its self-explanatory premise.

"Something we think about when we're looking at all of our scripted projects is 'Can you put up a billboard and get it right away?'," said Dick Hoogstra, senior vice president of development and production at History. "We like it when the marketing doesn't have to explain too much."

With its wintry climes and characters decked out in leather tunics and shaggy fur capes, Vikings has perhaps inevitably invited comparisons to HBO's fantasy series Game Of Thrones. The projects share a preoccupation with medieval hygiene and bloody decapitations, but there are some notable differences – namely, the constraints of basic cable.

"When I was writing The Tudors, there was a certain amount of gratuitous stuff which has now gone bonkers in a lot of cable shows. Every scene starts with semi-naked women. With History, of course, the rules are different," Hirst said.

Vikings is also limited, if only slightly, by historical reality. Hirst can humanise the Vikings all he wants, but he can't entirely whitewash their more unflattering qualities, such as their overt hostility to Christianity (an early episode features a brutal raid on a Nothrumbrian monastery). — Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

> Vikings – a new nine-part scripted series premiering today at 10pm on the History channel (Astro Ch 555) – portrays the world of these Dark Age raiders, traders, explorers through the eyes of the Viking society.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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