Written by: Emily Willings
Photo Source: Unsplash
When most people hear of filming in the Ulster region, they think of Game of Thrones filmed along the Giant’s Causeway.
Indeed, filming of the series led to a huge spike in tourism for various counties in Ulster, as tourists flocked to walk in the footsteps of Jon Snow, while the monastic ruins on the River Quoile that were featured in the show have led to a huge 51-room hotel being given the green light to take advantage of GoT-induced tourist traffic.
In 2018, 600,000 trips were made to the North to take advantage of the tourist experiences that the filming of Game of Thrones provided.
Other popular shows such as BBC’s Line of Duty have also helped put Ulster on the map; undisputedly popular, its finale alone brought in 9.6 million viewers. However, it’s not only traditional TV that is helping Ulster stand out as a sparkling filming destination.
The new Netflix film Viking Destiny, shot in Northern Ireland, is the latest to utilise the Ulster province as its backdrop. But what is this new flick about, whereabouts in Ulster was it filmed, and just why do Vikings continue to be so popular?
What is Viking Destiny?
The film, also titled Of Gods and Monsters in some territories, follows Viking Helle (Anna Demetriou) in a story that we don’t often see when it comes to the marauding Nordic pillagers – one from a female Viking’s perspective.
The film follows Helle as she attempts to claim back her rightful place within her clan and fulfil her prophesied rise to power. The film had a limited cinema release in October 2018 and grossed $15,766 in combined domestic video sales. The film only managed to score 13% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, but the setting and backdrop to the flick is generally praised
The film had an uphill battle, especially given the readily available Viking content that the History Channel comfortably excels at. But it provided a good filler for Middle Ages and Medieval period drama while Game of Thrones – an obvious inspiration – was off the air. The characterisation of Helle was enjoyable to watch, and the film satiates those who want to connect with the world of the Vikings through film.
The site of the late Roger Ebert, one of the most esteemed film critics in the world, questioned the film’s budgetary constraints and suggested that the film might not have achieved as much as it should have due to these issues, especially when compared to other similar features that had more money to spend. The New York Times suggested that the plot and dialogue suited the film and its tone and that it was as enjoyable a dive into the fictional realm as it could have been.
— Movieweb (@movieweb) August 30, 2018
Where Was Viking Destiny Filmed?
The Ulster region was used extensively throughout the film, as sites like Leslie Hill House in Ballymoney and its surroundings were used for their rustic and historical aesthetic.
The house has been in the Leslie family since 1756 and is one of the best-preserved examples of such a grand building in Northern Ireland. Now that it has been immortalised in film, this could inspire other productions to begin using the home for stately home-inspired period dramas, as The Crown, Downton Abbey, and Victoria have done in the past to great success.
Areas outside London and in Yorkshire have provided the backdrop for many of the period pieces we enjoy today, so looking further afield is something filmmakers are keen to do.
Red Hall in Barrycally and O’Harabrook in Ballymoney were also used. Red Hall is an Elizabethan tower house, nestled within verdant woodlands, with an in-tact 12th Century motte and bailey only 400 yards away from the house.
The touch of authenticity this brings to filming this style of period film explains why it was chosen, while the nearby parkland could be transformed for a multitude of uses in the film’s mostly external settings.
Using such staples of the landscape helps to tell a story set at the turn of the first millennium. The ancient setting of the film required somewhere remote enough that wasn’t touched by our modern conveniences, while the chosen setting simultaneously allowed filmmakers to showcase the natural rural beauty of the Ulster region, as well as putting the Irish entertainment industry on the map itself.
Why are Vikings Still So Popular?
Viking culture and popular tropes being turned into a film isn’t a one-off. There has been a spate of Viking-themed films, TV shows, and games recently, with the rise in interest in genealogy also meaning that more people than ever are looking back and wondering where they originally came from.
Those in the UK would most likely have descended in some form from the Nordic settlers, so engaging with them through entertainment and learning more about the Vikings can help people feel more connected to their personal, and their country’s, history.
The TV show Vikings, which premiered in 2013, was also filmed in Ireland, primarily in County Wicklow. The popularity of the show – now into its sixth season, and with a spin-off produced by Netflix – shows just how much we enjoy re-visiting our grim and mysterious history.
However, it’s not just TV where we continue to enjoy Viking culture; the world of gaming also lets us discover history, even if in more unconventional ways.
Those interested in trying free slots can even engage with the Vikings with the ‘Vikings’ and ‘Voyage of the Vikings’ slot games, that feature popular motifs from the aforementioned television show, and generally exciting pieces of historic Nordic culture.
Furthermore, the popular PC game Age of Empires recently re-released their second edition, which features the Middle Ages and the Vikings as one of the playable civilisations. There is even an app game, Vikings: War of Clans, that allows players to build a Viking civilisation and defend it against invaders.
There is a huge push within the UK film industry at the moment to move away from overused English locations, and to tell stories that are woven into further regional and authentic settings – as can be seen through A Bend in the River, shot in Tyrone.
The terrain, history, and architecture of Ulster make it the perfect location to replicate the setting of a Viking period film. As the area grows in popularity, and the local economy is aided by the development of so many filming opportunities, we will most likely see more exciting productions in the area in the future.