When the Raven Flies

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Hrafninn Flýgur
Hrafninn flygur poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson
Produced by Bo Jonsson
Written by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson
Based on Yojimbo
by Akira Kurosawa (Uncredited)
Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson
Edda Björgvinsdóttir
Helgi Skúlason
Egill Ólafsson
Flosi Ólafsson
Gotti Sigurdarson
Music by Harry Manfredini
Hans-Erik Philip
Cinematography Tony Forsberg
Edited by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson
Viking Film
Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI)
Icelandic Film Center
Distributed by Svenska Filminstitutet
Release date
  • 4 February 1984 (1984-02-04)
Running time
109 minutes
Country Iceland
Language Icelandic

When the Raven Flies (original Icelandic: Hrafninn flýgur (About this sound pronunciation )) is a 1984 Icelandic-Swedish adventure film written and directed by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson. The story is set in Viking Age Iceland. The film was selected as the Icelandic entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 57th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[1]

Although mainly a tale of personal revenge, When the Raven Flies bears a clear resemblance to the classic Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo, sharing common plot events, characters and action sequences.[2] Gunnlaugsson also drew inspiration from the Sagas of Icelanders and aimed to deconstruct the Viking stereotypes, replacing them with more authentic portrayals of the Viking era.[3]

When the Raven Flies is the first film of the Raven Trilogy (also known as the Viking Trilogy) that consists of three Viking films: When the Raven Flies (1984, usually known as simply The Raven or Revenge of the Barbarians), In the Shadow of the Raven (1987, original Icelandic title: Í skugga hrafnsins) and Embla (1991, original Icelandic title: Hvíti víkingurinn), which is a director's cut of The White Viking.


In the opening scene in Ireland, a young boy loses his parents in a Viking raid, but is spared in spite of the command of Thord, the Vikings' leader, to kill him. His sister is kidnapped by the Vikings. Twenty years later, the boy has become a man and travels to Iceland to seek revenge against the perpetrators and find his sister. His name is never revealed, and he is only known as "Gestur" by the characters in the film since he is a stranger to them. "Gestur" simply means "guest" but is also not an uncommon given name.

With two of the Viking raiders now living in exile from Norway and king Harald Hairfair, Gestur coldly plays their gangs against each other to get his revenge. He stays out of sight, only revealing himself through his killings and to Erik, Thord's fosterbrother. He slays several of Thord's men and then frames Erik's gang for it. Thord is led to believe that Erik is plotting against him and is lying about the Gestur character. Thord's younger brother encourages this - it's later revealed that he is the one plotting to overthrow Thord and take his position. Thord is eventually driven to attack Erik and his men, killing them all.

Gestur discovers that Thord is married to the now adult sister and they have a young son. Gestur reveals himself to his long lost sister, but she is still a Christian like their father raised them and does not help Gestur's plans to assassinate Thord.

Thord is a devout Norse paganist. Gestur secretly manipulates Thord's altar, leading Thord to believe that the gods demand his son, Einar, as a sacrifice. In her desperation, Gestur's sister reveals her brother was the one who manipulated the altar and leads Thord and his gang to capture Gestur. He refuses to reveal who he is, even under brutal torture. The guilt-stricken sister frees him in secret, and the badly wounded Gestur escapes to Erik's grave.

Thord decides that he will use Gestur's trick against him. He secretly confides with Odin that he will use the ceremony as a hoax to lure Gestur out to save Einar. Thord arranges a sacrificial ceremony of his son, but secretly tells his brother and his son that the blade will stopp inches off his throat; if Einar will face the blade without flinching, he will have proven his "viking-courage" to the gods. In the middle of the ceremony, Gestur suddenly reveals himself in Erik's funeral cloth. Thord's brother swings the blade to kill Thord's son, but the child is pushed away the last second. Gestur uses his disguise to get close to Thord and his brother, revealing his true identity and killing them both.

Gestur buries his weapons and asks his sister and her son to come with him back to Ireland. He claims that he will now abandon violence and live a Christian life. His sister refuses and says that her son is "old enough to have seen too much", using the same words that Thord used twenty years ago when he ordered the killing of Gestur. In the final scene of the film, Einar looks after Gestur in anger and digs up Gestur's buried weapons, presumably to avenge his father and continue the cycle of violence.



  • Hrafn Gunnlaugsson won the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Director.[4]
  • Hrafn Gunnlaugsson was nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  2. ^ Nestingen, Andrew K.; Elkington, Trevor Glen. Transnational Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition. pp. 341–349. ISBN 9780814332436. 
  3. ^ Sundholm, John; Thorsen, Isak; Andersson, Lars Gustaf; Hedling, Olof; Iversen, Gunnar; Møller, Birgir Thor. Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinema. p. 205. ISBN 9780810878990. 
  4. ^ "Hrafninn flýgur (1984)". Swedish Film Institute. 9 March 2014. 

External links[edit]