Film Review: “Margrete, Queen of the North” — One Matriarch, One Scandinavia

By Peg Aloi

Margrete, Queen of the North, directed by Charlotte Sieling. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

This is an opulent and ambitious historical drama, as attentive to small intimate scenes as it is to grandiose action sequences.

Trine Dyrholm plays a 15th-century Danish queen in Margrete, Queen of the North. Photo: Dušan Martinček

Starring Danish actress Trine Dyrholm (Nico, 1988), this historical epic is beautifully shot and directed. A Danish queen who lived and ruled in the 15th century, Margrete has been celebrated for creating a peaceful and successful union among Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, an arrangement that allowed Scandinavia to avoid wars with Europe and territory disputes with neighboring nations. Helmed by Danish writer-director Charlotte Sieling (who has directed a good deal of fine TV, including Forbrydelsen/The Killing and Lovecraft Country), this is an opulent and ambitious film, as attentive to small intimate scenes as it is to grandiose action sequences.

The narrative begins with a strong sense of place as we see Margrete as a young girl, being carried away from a lush meadow landscape that has become a bloody battlefield strewn with bodies. Margrete’s childhood trauma of witnessing war explains why her destiny as a monarch was to keep the peace. Decades later, she has become a loved and respected queen whose efforts to forge and maintain the multination union has contributed to a peaceful and prosperous Scandinavia. But as various forces and agendas threaten to erode the Nordic Union, Queen Margrete decides to arrange a marriage between her adopted son Erik (heir to her throne) and a young English princess, thereby ensuring a robust alliance with Britain that will further protect Scandinavia’s strongholds. There’s one major problem: rumors begin to spread that Oluf, the queen’s eldest son and rightful heir to the throne, believed long dead, is still alive. Some Danish lords demand that he take his rightful place, and previously loyal regents start to choose sides, sparking tension.

The night before Erik’s wedding, in the midst of the rumors, a mysterious stranger arrives at the palace, claiming to be Oluf. This prompts hastily arranged political meetings at a time that the nation’s leaders are gathered in celebration. The wedding plans are forgotten for the moment, and the question of who is the rightful heir threatens to divide the alliance: various underhanded deals are made and advantageous favors sought. Erik (Morten Hee Andersen) is irritated by this distraction from his nuptials and decides to exploit the loyalty of Oluf’s detractors, proclaiming his authority and strong-arming his mother’s defenders. Even Margrete’s staunchly loyal clerical advisor, Peder (The Investigation’s Søren Malling), is tempted to betray the queen for the sake of strengthening Denmark’s position. The alliance threatens to unravel as, for the first time in decades, Margrete’s authority is undermined.

The threads of intrigue highlight the filmmaker’s vision of Margrete as a queen who, first and foremost, has a strong sense of self. She is also a skilled negotiator who commands respect, even from those who disagree with her decisions. Margrete even manages to simultaneously rebuff and flatter a visiting dignitary who suggests he spend the night in her bedroom amidst all the turmoil. Still, the return of her son, whom she thought dead, unmoors her from her normal state of confidence and stability. Beneath her concerns about maintaining the alliance, we see the devastation of a mother who feels she didn’t do right by her only living child.

Dyrholm embodies the role masterfully, with subtle touches of humor and pathos. Her monarch is a flesh and blood presence. The film’s flawless period details and gorgeous cinematography are quite stunning to behold. The costumes are richly rendered, oozing authenticity with hammered metal, glossy fur, and tooled leather. Interiors are filled with moody candle and lantern light, exteriors evocative of an ancient landscape of majestic, mist-encircled mountains and forests. Margrete, Queen of the North draws on a distinctive kind of historical realism, a visual density that reflects a psychological and human depth that’s woefully missing in recent period films that depend (too frequently) on special effects.

Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at

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