Morgunblaðið 8th May 1973

Will a television series of Njáls saga be made?


This Englishmen’s eyes are mainly focused mainly in two directions – to the south and to the north. I’ve always been a man of the north, and maybe that’s why I was chosen to write the script for the film Running Blind.

The person speaking these words is the British writer Ian Rodger, who stayed here for a week to get acquainted with the Icelandic landscape and culture before he sets out to write the screenplay, which he has been commissioned to write.

The film of Running Blind will be shot in Iceland – probably in the summer of 1974, and will be based on the novel of the same name by Desmond Bagley, which has been published with Icelandic translation under the title Út í óvissuna. The book describes a thrilling game of life and death between a Scottish secret service agent and a Russian spy through the highlands of Iceland – from Akureyri to Reykjavik. The author of the novel and a film producer are expected to come to Iceland in search of suitable locations for filming.

Although Running Blind is the first film screenplay by Ian Rodger, he can hardly be considered a newcomer. He began his career as a journalist –

Magnús Magnússon and I drank coffee together every day – even though we both worked for rival newspapers who were opponents in news coverage.

– but after many years as a journalist, he decided to make an old dream a reality and become a writer. He moved and settled in Stockholm, where he stayed for a while. The result was four novels – “all with a Swedish background” as he puts it. Then he returned to England and began to write for radio, writing 15 radio plays.

It was therefore a natural continuation of Rodger’s career that he should turn his talents to television, where he has had considerable success in the last few years. In Iceland, television viewers have already seen one of his plays – Sweet England’s Pride – the sixth and final episode in the series about Queen Elizabeth. Rodger says:

Right now I can say I have two television projects. The first one to mention is that I have recently finished a television script about Roald Amundsen’s journey to the South Pole for a new BBC television series, called ‘The Explorers’.

The television movie about Amundsen will be similar to a documentary, which will attempt to recreate this famous journey in words and pictures. Rodger says he relied on the diaries of two of the explorers – Amundsen himself and one of his comrades, the dairies sometimes describing conflicts that occurred between Amundsen and his fellow travellers. It should be noted that Rodger reads and understands the Nordic languages, but also speaks excellence “svenglish”, as he puts it, or Swedish with an English accent. The film about Amundsen’s journey will to some extent be filmed in Finse, Norway next year, but there has also has been some talk that the filmmaker Gisli Gestsson will go to Greenland and film the arctic landscape for the television documentary. It is also worth mentioning that Rodger has recently finished writing a television play for the BBC about a peasant uprising in England in 1381.

Ian Rodger enjoyed his stay in Iceland

As I’m a lifelong Scandophile, and with the trip to Iceland now, I have visited all the Nordic countries except the Faroe Islands.

As an example of his admiration for Nordic countries, he mentioned that he christened his eldest daughter Freyja, and at the same time he said that it was a secret ambition to have the opportunity to film Njáls saga as a television series. The undersigned pointed out to him that he was not alone in that and probably needed to be quick about it.

Why has he now turned to film?

I have often dropped the words into conversation with my colleagues that British writer have never had as many options for storytelling as they do right now. All doors are open to them – novels, plays, television and films. And I have never wanted to commit to something specific – I want to try everything. And even though I’m now going to write a screenplay, that does not mean I’m going to be stuck in similar projects for the future, no, I’m just exploring one more format and I can do whatever I want at any time.

Rodger went on to say that he’s far from completely gone off fiction –

I’ve had a great story in my head for a long time, but somehow I’ve never had time to turn to it seriously – hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

Rodger admits that there is a big difference between writing for television and writing for film – the two are more different than they appear at first glance.

Television has so far trodden a similar path to the film, but now I think people are waking up to the awareness of how different these two media really are.

The small screen of the television therefore places undeniably some limitations – it is, for example, almost impossible to use long shots in television filming. Therefore, the television camera has to delimit more, the object, the person, the event that is being filmed, in order to draw attention to it, which leads to it literally feeding the viewer completely on what is to be shown.

The advantage of the film lies in its depth and dimension – how it can show us the man in the landscape so that it becomes almost more influential than the reality itself. In a good film, the viewer lives in it – becomes a participant in what goes on. They are two of the differences between film and television.

We turn our attention to Running Blind. Rodger says that he travelled over Iceland in the days he was here – from Reykjavík to Akureyri, where he had a sunny day, and also said that he got a brief glimpse of Iceland’s rugged landscape, which plays one of the main roles in the novel, and then presumably, the film too.

Filmmaker Gisli Gestsson with me the whole time, as it is absolutely necessary for a screenwriter to enjoy the company of a man with similar experience to himself. That is why my stay here also became the most instructive, that I will benefit from when I sit down and write.

Otherwise, Rodger says he foresees that he will run into various difficulties when he begins to turn the novel into a film screenplay.

Reading a story is a bit different than rewriting before filming. In the first instance, you can let your imagination run wild, but when filming, on the one hand, you have to take into account the various aspects of the film. But I guess I will remember not only the Icelandic landscape in the screenplay but also the people – the contrast between the way of life of the Icelanders and the landscape, which in some cases takes over as soon as they reach the outskirts of town. Although the film will be a pure ‘thriller’, it must be represented in a more realistic environment.

So how far have the preparations for filming progressed?

To the best of my knowledge, the filming will take pace here and I will write the script. The roles have not been decided and I cannot say at this stage who will direct the film, as that is still under consideration. But Running Blind will be a widescreen film in colour, and I think I can promise an exciting scenario, because the chase across the highlands undeniably offers the possibility of that. And I think it can be said that the actors won’t be inferior, because the producer does not want to make a second-class picture (B movie) of this novel.


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  1. ‘Verður gerð sjónvarpsmynd eftir Njálssögu?’; Morgunblaðið, 8 May 1973, p. 12; © / Árvakur hf.