25th September, 1066. The Viking King Harald Hardrada’s invaders are being slaughtered at Stamford Bridge outside York. Caught unawares by the English King Harold and his army, the Norsemen fight to their last breath, as all worthy warriors must.
Battle-torn, bloody and exhausted, the ageing warrior king bursts into a simple thatched dwelling, the clamour of battle and cries of the fallen fading behind him. He stumbles, throws himself onto a bed, is taken by sleep. Wakes to find food bubbling in a pot over the fire. Eats ravenously. The door opens and a spear-armed, one-eyed stranger in a wide-brimmed hat walks in. Sits down. Stares at the great king with his single, soul-searching eye. Under this scrutiny Hardrada feels suddenly compelled to tell this stranger the saga story of his own illustrious, war-filled life.
For though the great Harald Hardrada might not know it, his mortal body even now lies hacked and bloodless on the field by the river. And yet such was the warrior’s ambition in life, such was his thirst for sword-fame and glory, that he has one more tale to tell. One final epic to share, of his journey along the warrior’s way, before his soul can move on to what lies beyond.
And Odin the spear god, lord of war and poetry, would hear it.
September 25th marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a desperate last stand by a great Viking army led by their king, Harald Hardrada. Just three weeks later the English King Harold and his victorious but weakened army would have to fight William, Duke of Normandy, at Hastings. We all know what happened then, and England was changed forever.
Had the English not been forced to battle the Vikings at Stamford Bridge, history would very likely have turned out differently. But for Hardrada and his Vikings, Stamford Bridge was a calamity. Their losses were so horrific that only 24 ships from the fleet of over 300 were needed to carry the survivors away. Never again would a Viking army leave their Scandinavian homeland in search of conquest. The Viking Age was over.
From bestselling novelist Giles Kristian and award-winning filmmaker Philip Stevens comes Hardrada’s Saga, a short film in honour of the last Viking, Harald Hardrada, who fought and died that bloody autumn day.
Hardrada was a giant of a man, flamboyant, ambitious and fearsome in battle. A professional warrior all his adult life, there can be few men who travelled so far or experienced so much. But as well as being the most respected warrior of the age, Hardrada was also a keen poet and it is said that he was even composing poetry on the battlefield that day in 1066.
Giles Kristian has woven the great warrior’s life story in a poem that is rich in imagery and kennings; that form of metaphor used in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry in which an object is described in a two-word phrase, such as ‘whale-road’ for ‘sea’, ‘battle-sweat’ and ‘slaughter's dew’ for ‘blood’ and ‘wave-steed’ or ‘fjord-elk’ for ‘ship’. Director Philip Stevens has combined his experience in theatre and historical filmmaking to dramatise the extraordinary narrative and bring it to glorious life in the best traditions of the Norse and Anglo Saxon storytelling cultures.