Godland review: a priest’s mad mission across Iceland

Hlynur Pálmason’s breathtaking portrait of blind faith and evangelism in late 19th-century Iceland is a film of sturdy and stunning beauty.

By Caspar Salmon

After the international acclaim for his second film A White, White Day (2019), Hlynur Pálmason returns with Godland, a film of extraordinary craft and power. The film’s considerable virtues, which range from breathtaking landscape photography to inhabited performances from a flawless cast, show Pálmason to be working at the height of his powers.

Drawing inspiration from late-19th century photos of Icelandic countryfolk taken in a remote outcrop of the island, Godland centres on Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), a Danish priest and amateur photographer who has undertaken a trip across Iceland to establish a parish by the sea. To assist him in his arduous journey, Lucas enlists a Danish-Icelandic translator, various horse-boys, and a rough-edged guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), with whom the mild-mannered preacher enters into a low-simmering feud. The film essentially contains two separate halves, of which the first is the group’s difficult procession through churning rivers and over icy mountains, while the second takes place in the tiny village where Lucas and his remaining acolytes wash up. The film’s subject matter recalls Oscar and Lucinda a little, There Will Be Blood somewhat too, for its tale of single-minded settlers driven to a species of madness. In the case of Godland (the title is bitterly ironic), the crisis comes from the dogma of faith rubbing up against the imperious lawlessness of nature.

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Movies to See this summer

Fanny Lye Deliver'd
Maxine Peake and Charles Dance in Fanny Lye Deliver’d

theartsdesk recommends the movies to see

There are films to meet every taste in theartsdesk’s guide to the best movies currently on release. In our considered opinion, any of the titles below is well worth your attention.

7500 ★★★★ Debut thriller will have you avoiding airports for good

A White, White Day ★★★★ Gripping Icelandic portrait of grief, love and vengeance

Days of the Bagnold Summer ★★★★ A wry suburban drama from debut director Simon Bird

Fanny Lye Deliver’d ★★★★ Blistering English civil war western starring Maxine Peake

Joan of Arc ★★★★ Part two of Bruno Dumont’s musical biopic ranges from scathing to compassionate

Krabi, 2562 ★★★★ Documentary and fiction combine in an unusual guided tour

On the Record ★★★★ #MeToo turns its lens to the music industry, gives the mic to women of colour

The Dead and the Others ★★★★ Dreamlike journey set in indigenous Brazilian community

The King of Staten Island ★★★★ Judd Apatow’s best work in a decade

The Vast of Night ★★★★★ Teenage sleuths track visitors from afar in an impeccable low-budget indie