The Viking Queen - 1967
The Viking Queen - released March 25, 1967. Directed by Dan Chaffey
"They can handle their chariots, I'll say that for these Britons"
Druids, Romans and the half-Viking-half-Briton Queen Salina (played by Finnish model Carita Jarvinen) sort through the problems of a Romeo and Juliet subplot and the main issue of an uneasy peace between the Celts and Romans which has run out of steam. Political shenanigans by the Druids plus sadistic maltreatment by unruly Roman soldiers has made peaceful coexistence impossible.*
Justinian, the governor-general of the Roman force in Briton (played by Don Murray), is a reasonable Hollywood Roman and looks upon the religious mores of the Druids and his own soldiers with a shrug (they worship Nero).
When confronted with a request of the Queen to allow a Druidic ceremony to burn the body of her dead father, he asks the "wise man" Tristram (Patrick Troughton) for a little advice. He tells Justinian "the tree that bends in the wind a little lasts longest," so it looks like the forbidden Druidic funeral is a go. But then news arrives that a small Roman force (and almost all the Roman forces in The Viking Queen look small) has just been ambushed by blue-painted rebel Britons. Justinian, in a hot anger (he has many through the length of this movie), cancels the permission for the ceremony and yells "keep your savages under control!" at the Queen and marches out in a rage. "My people aren't savages!" she yells back.
Which is true, they're more like 1967 English hippies in a far more stately wardrobe. The Druidic ceremony goes on as planned, but in secret and at night in a kind of bifurcated Stonehenge. Chief Druid Maelgan (Donald Houston) is officiating and he is often spewing spittle while defending his religion and the rights and privileges of his priestly position and sometimes seems about to burst an aneurysm in the process. He gets far enough into the funeral ceremony to "Zeus***" that he demands that their group sacrifice a virgin girl in the process "to make sure our words are heard," which sounds more like Maelgan needs to seriously consider changing gods. Queen Salina says "no" to this demand and then a Roman troop bursts onto the scene to arrest them for disobedience to Roman law. When Queen Salina insists to Justinian that the ceremony is a private affair, not public, and therefore not a forbidden act, Justinian has to logically agree, and they turn loose the Briton prisoners, much to the consternation of his Nero-worshipping Roman soldiers who are mad about all this hairy-headed resistance to how Rome wants things done.
By now we see that only Justinian and Queen Salina have any sense of fairness and moderation while surrounded by forces of arch-conservatism and hippiedom, which is to say, it's 60 AD in Britain but also 1967 in London.**
Filmed in Ireland with nice location photography of green hills, waterfalls and forests, and very good stunt work, The Viking Queen nonetheless drags along a schlock undertone of occasional smarm and stiff or overwrought acting. A Hammer Production movie, this becomes obvious from time to time, beneficial when it comes to art direction and costuming for which Hammer is nearly always highly regarded, but not such a good recommendation when it comes to the script and its sometimes goofy 1967-era exploitation styling. It's true that ancient Britons used blue paint on themselves but these 1967 actors - - an assortment of English and Irish - - are sometimes in an all-over psychedelic body paint that is more reminescent of a 1967 Star Trek episode.
Director Dan Chaffey makes the most of a limited budget, his stars the Californian Don Murray and the Finnish-accented Carita. Chaffey composes a lot of nice shots and gives us some spectacular chariot action. The cast isn't thousands of extras like a color epic from the 1960s from a bigger studio, but Chaffey builds a visual world where it seems like a Roman legion is on the loose in ancient Briton. The story is essentially how Queen Salina has trouble keeping the peace with everyone edging for a fight. When her patience has run out, she takes up a sword and leads an army with chariots in the front, and Chaffey seems to have nailed a camera to the chariot itself so that we can see Salina whipping her horses forward. Some of this is first-rate camera work and the equal of much bigger-budgeted films.
The melodrama of Druids and Romans moves along to predicatble results. They don't like each other and neither will bend to the frustrated doctrines of their opposing religions / politics****.
Carita makes a lovely queen and Don Murray is an able office administrator with a jealous second-in-command named Octavian (a very good Andrew Keir) who gladly tells him "I reached my position through hard work, not through friends in Rome..." so, not only do the Druids and Romans not get along, but the Romans can't even get along with each other. And that's 60 AD and 1967.
*The film seems to adapt a historical tone by way of slightly-imitating the actual history of the real Queen Boadicea who led a revolt against the Roman occupation force in Britain around 60 AD.
**Or Londinium, which is what it is called in The Viking Queen.
*** Why are the Druids worshipping an ancient Greek god? I don't know.
**** Much like today, the distance between the two is nearly non existent.
Original Page July 2017
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