A Night At The Museum

Monday, February 17 2014
A Night At The Museum

Vikings are, says Michael Hirst, the creator of the hit TV show of the same name, currently part of the zeitgeist. When he’s talking from the stage of a plush screening room at the British Museum, which is about to host a major exhibition on the Vikings and their world, it’s easy to see why.

In the later part of the 20th century,” Hirst notes, “this wouldn’t have happened.”

He’s speaking at the launch of the first series of Vikings as a physical release from Fox in front of an audience made up of writers, journalists, bloggers and competition winners.

It’s an indication of how seriously Fox is treating the release of the programme that it’s prepared to host such an impressive event.

The evening also gives the Hirst the chance, in a question and answer session with Time Out film editor Dave Calhoun after the opening salvo of the series is screened, to further expound on his theories about how the Vikings have, until recently, had a bad press.

“They were so clean,” he notes, “Irish women were attracted to them, their men looked like grubby hippies, the Vikings were not like that. The Scandinavians were very clean, the locals, by contrast, were very grubby.”

Hirst is joined on stage by George Blagden, who stars in the series, and while his discussion about the trials and tribulations of starring as a Christian who comes under attack from the Vikings, is fascinating, it’s Hirst who dominates the proceedings talking about the topic du jour, Vikings.

“The Vikings have had a bad press,” he continues. “They were valiant, incredible warriors, had a legal system, democracy, women were treated in a far more egalitarian way.

“It’s virtually impossible to have Vikings as the sympathetic lead characters, they’re always the people who come in the night, break your door down and then rape and pillage.”

The importance, as Hirst notes, is to blend the historical elements with some proper drama. He says: “I wanted it to be rooted in reality from the start, I knew the points I wanted it to make, I knew that I wanted it to be immersive. A lot of people say it’s drama, it’s not a history lesson, but you need authenticity.”

The much vaunted “golden age” of TV so beloved off the media has also helped the series: “It is a golden age of TV series, it’s an amazing time to work on this. It’s not as expensive as HBO, but it’s very expensive.”

It’s not just the budget though. The success of HBO-style programmes have enabled writers to widen their scope. Your main charactersw and protagonists, no longer have to be blue-eyed, heroes.
“Nowadays., you can’t write a series with your lead character being a nice guy,” Hirst says. “Their existence has to bring in moral issues. It’s fantastic that the show could do that. I could finally write about them because everyone else was writing about morally ambivalent difficult characters .”

And with that Hirst and Blagden are done and the assorted guests battle to try and get home before the tube strike takes full effect.

Fox’s belief in the project is later highlighted by its week one performance – the first series of Vikings went on to top the TV charts after its first week on release.

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