Despite having directed the hugely successful One Million Years B.C., Don Chaffey's second outing for Hammer The Viking Queen, was a far less extravagant production, a program filler pitched as a sword and sandal spectacle, filmed in Ireland while the studio was channelling its talent and resources into Frankenstein Created Woman. Set in the 1st century, Britain is a divided island under occupation by the Roman Empire. The fragile truce in place between the Romans and the Britons is threatened when a forbidden love affair develops between native Queen Salina and Justina the Roman Governor General, the relationship used by the pagan druids to sow the seeds of dissent, while Justina's second in command, the ambitious Octavian, manoeuvres to seize power and crush the Britons.
The Viking film as a genre had a brief day in the sun following the success of Richard Fleischer's The Vikings, with European filmmakers soon tweaking the formula of the sword and sandal film to factor in the Vikings' fearsome reputation for rape and pillage, as well as adding a dose of Norse mythology. By the time Hammer's film was released in 1967 the genre was all but played out, effectivly replaced by the next wave of low budget Euro-Cinema, the Spaghetti Western. Even the title of the film is a bit of a cheat - it hardly qualifies as a Viking film at all, swapping long ships for chariots and the god Odin elbowed out by something decidedly more Celtic in flavour. Given the relative obscurity of the film, The Viking Queen is all too readily dismissed and seems destined to wind up on the shelf of the Hammer completeist, unjustly so as the film makes for a rousing, intelligent and fast moving action film.
The singularly named Finnish model Carita playing the titular queen provides the required Hammer glamour, but one can't help thinking she's just stumbled out of a photographer's studio on Carnaby Street, especially when she goes to war in a miniskirt. Still, she's capable enough, and is bolstered up with support from her fellow cast, a cadre of hard-working TV actors, and Hammer stalwart Andrew Kier playing the villainous Octavian. Less successful though is actor Donald Houston who should have been thrown to the wolves for his high camp Pythonesque Druid high-priest. Visually the film has a sense of scale and space which extends past it's thrifty budget, with some evocative moody lighting, and director Don Chaffey uses some clever camera angles to transform a modest number of extras into a whole legion of Roman soldiers. As with Hammer's 1960 film, Sword of Sherwood Forest, the shooting unit was dispatched to Ireland, filming on many of the locations John Boorman would later choose for Excalibur. That the film was shot in Ireland is something of a bitter irony, as the backdrop of The Viking Queen's storyline could almost be seen as an allegory for the Troubles, which the island was heading into in the late 60's.
Optimum's DVD of The Viking Queen is a decent enough effort, with a 1.85 anamorphic transfer, but the print is rather faded looking, a shame considering the film's imaginative lighting and lush photography. The audio is perfectly adequate. Extras include the usual barn-storming trailer. If you can track it down, the 1999 US disc from Anchor Bay inches ahead with a warmer image and another episode of the World of Hammer series, Lands Before Time. There's also a German disc available with English audio, featuring a fine transfer and the World of Hammer episode Trials of War.