The events that led up to the last public execution in Iceland in 1828 form the basis of this grim tale of a beautiful young woman who makes the mistake of trying to control her life in a world dominated by men. Exotic locations and solid storytelling, plus dashes of sex and violence should give this Icelandic epic limited exposure.
Agnes (Maria Ellingsen) is first seen as a servant in the remotely located house of Richter (Egill Olafsson), a local magistrate who reps the Danish government (Iceland was part of Denmark at the time.) Though unmarried, Agnes has a young daughter (rumors abound that the child’s father is the local priest) and is thus considered fair game by the lecherous Richter, who tries to rape her on numerous occasions. But the strong-willed Agnes can look after herself, though she ensures Richter’s enmity as a result.
When Richter’s wife is experiencing a difficult birth, and with no doctor in the vicinity, Natan Ketilsson (Baltasar Kormakur), who practices homeopathy, is called in and successfully delivers the child. Agnes falls for the dashing Natan , and is willingly seduced by him, unaware that his principal profession is that of thief — he has his brother and a servant rob Richter while he dallies with Agnes in the barn.
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Thrown out of Richter’s house, Agnes is “bought” as a servant by Natan, who takes her off to his farm, which is located in an even more remote part of the country. But Agnes’ happiness is short-lived, as Natan, affected by the herbs he regularly consumes, turns ugly and violent. The drama ends with his death and Agnes being accused of his murder.
The film is a reminder of a period when powerful men were easily able to crush and even eliminate a woman who tried to stand up for herself, and the tragedy of Agnes is that she refuses to accept her fate without a struggle. Ellingsen gives an effective performance as the feisty, hedonistic and ultimately doomed heroine.
Director Egill Edvardsson, whose only other feature was the spooky “House” in 1983, does a fine job of storytelling, ably backed by producer and co-scripter Snorri Thorisson’s splendid work as cinematographer; the rugged Icelandic landscapes are particularly well used as background to this re-creation of an unsavory part of the small country’s past.