The 13th Warrior

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(1999) ★★★★

BBC1: Saturday 11 July, 11.50pm

Exiled to the north lands, Arabian ambassador Antonio Banderas warily meets a group of Viking warriors who shelter his caravan from the Tartar hordes. But the Norsemen are summoned home to fend off the dread terror of the Weldon – an army of cannibalistic barbarians – and their oracle insists that the 13th warrior should be a foreigner. “But I’m not a warrior,” protests the meek, courtly Banderas. Soon he shall be. An intensely exciting adventure from a Michael Crichton story with the forbidding title Eaters of the Dead. Which serves fair notice of the horrific nature of the saga. The grimly fascinating story unfolds in unusual fashion, the bluff machismo of the Vikings presented in a familiar hearty manner, although undercut by humour and the bemused reactions of the outsider Banderas. The terrifying demeanour of the Weldon adds a supernatural element entirely in keeping with the superstitions of the first millennium. A palpable fear is engendered in the moments before the attacks. In scenes clearly inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the Vikings prepare defences for the village as best they can. Their leader Vladimir Kulich’s heroic climactic gesture also brings to mind the majesterial El Cid. Unlike Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, though, no attempt is made to disguise the brutality of the heavy-metal combat in the thrillingly staged action sequences. And those Vikings were a hard bunch: “Hurry to meet death before your place is taken!” Even so, because the battles take place in the dark at great speed, it’s not always clear what is happening – for which we can only say, thank God. This is director John McTiernan’s best movie since Die Hard, impressively acted by a largely unfamiliar cast, and given the requisite pomp and circumstance by Jerry Goldsmith’s imposing score.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 99min

Other Showings Time & Date
BBC1 Scotland Sunday, 12 July at 1:05AM