The return of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to our screens has expectedly caused a stir on the internet. Nikolaj gained global fame for playing Jamie Lannister on the beloved series Game of Thrones. In Netflix’s new release, Against the Ice, which Nikolaj co-wrote, he plays Danish explore Ejnar Mikkelsen on a mission to prove that Greenland belongs to Denmark, not the United States.
Mikkelsen tackles the unforgiving frozen expanse alongside a mechanic named Iver Iversen (played by Joe Cole). The pair seek evidence gathered by three Danish explorers, who, sadly, didn’t make it back home. Their journey faces many perils – starvation, frostbite, food poisoning, bear attacks – but it ends in glory.
Against the Ice is based on the real-life expedition of two Danish explorers
The fight for control of Greenland in the early 20th century hinged on the existence or otherwise of the Peary Channel, an alleged water body discovered by Robert Peary that divided the land into two. If the Peary Channel existed, Denmark and the United States would share Greenland; if not, Denmark owned the entire island.
In the early 1900s, explorers Mylius-Erichsen and Hoeg-Hagen traveled to the alleged location of the Peary Channel. However, they perished on the way back; before dying, though, they hid their journals in safe places for other explorers to find.
Ejnar Mikkelsen, an expert explorer, resolved to find the journals. Lieutenant C.H. Jorgensen and young engineer Iver P. Iversen volunteered to travel with Ejnar. The trio discovered that the ice had swallowed Mylius-Erichsen and Hoeg-Hagen.
On their way back, frostbite took five of Jorgensen’s toes. Ejnar planned to return in spring to recover the information hidden by Mylius-Erichsen. However, his right-hand man, Jorgensen, was too unfit to embark on another excursion; Iversen volunteered to accompany him.
“It can’t be much worse a journey than the one we can almost see the end of now,” Iversen quipped. Against the Ice begins with Iversen and Ejnar’s expedition to find the hidden information. Ejnar wrote a memoir titled Two Against the Ice, adapted into film as Against the Ice.
Contrary to Iver’s assertions and as depicted in the film, the journey was perhaps more perilous than the first one. They spent most of the journey hungry, battled the below-freezing temperatures, and struggled with fear and paranoia.
Nikolaj learned of the story after reading Two Against the Ice. He told Deadline that he was impressed by Ejnar and Iver’s relationship:
“I was blown away by the book. We’ve seen survival stories before but there was something about the way he wrote, Mikkelsen, and the love he had for Iverson really came through in the book.”
He and Joe Derrick started writing a screenplay, which eventually spawned Against the Ice. Nikolaj added: “I’ve been writing for a long time. I co-write a film in 1997 (Wildside), that was also actually done in Iceland as well. For the last ten years I’ve been writing with Joe Derrick, we have various things, this is the first big one we’ve got going.”
The film features several inconsistencies with Ejnar’s account
Ejnar and Iversen battled polar bears in the snow, as the film depicts. Mikkelsen also daggered a large boil on his neck after Iver refused to do it for him.
However, Ejnar didn’t hallucinate his future wife on the ice. Furthermore, the journey didn’t drive him to insanity or lead to near-death fights with Iver. The pair disagreed, as would any group faced by such treacherous trials, but they never came to blows.
After the pair squabbled over a new card game, Ejnar threw the entire deck into the wind. “Iver was looking a bit sour when I came in again; but the next day he told me that what I had done was very sensible,” Mikkelsen wrote.
Perhaps out of loneliness, the pair picked out women on a postcard: Miss Sunbeam for Iver and Miss Steadfast for Ejnar. Once, Iversen sang a song he’d composed for Ms. Steadfast, angering Ejnar.
The following day, Iver wrote a note saying: “I am so sorry I took your girl. Take her back, take my four as well, take the whole damned lot—only to be cheerful again!” The pair laughed about the saga and resumed their friendship.
As depicted in the film, the pair found a hut with supplies in lieu of the ship they had left. They later discovered that their ship’s crew fashioned the shelter after the vessel started to sink.
Iver and Ejnar arrived at the shelter without the information they’d collected as they needed to travel light. They later went back to retrieve the journals they’d recovered. At the site, Iversen left markings directing other explorers to their location.
Norwegian sealers found the markings and, motivated by a reward promised by the Danish government, they rescued Iver and Ejnar. The pair stormed out of their cabin, expecting to find a bear, only to find the first humans they’d seen in 28 months.
Iver and Ejnar’s return wasn’t as celebrated as the film suggests. For instance, Ejnar didn’t receive the Royal Danish Geographical Society’s gold medal.
Sadly, perhaps more sled dogs died than is depicted in the film. The explorers shot sick dogs, others died out of exhaustion, and during their journey, Iver and Ejnar fed on dog meat to stay alive. All the sled dogs had passed by the time the pair arrived at the shelter.