Vikings Live at a cinema near me!

Exhibitions and cinema – a match made in heaven?

The best museums are always challenging themselves to reach out to audiences in new ways. This involves breaking down barriers which prevent people from engaging. One of the main barriers is geographic. Potential visitors say they don’t come to the museum because it’s too far away. Borrowing an idea from theatre and opera, the British Museum has pioneered live cinema broadcasts to help overcome this barrier.

British Museum Vikings Live poster

Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch Vikings Live at my local Adelaide cinema. I was really interested in the concept of an exhibition being shown in a cinema and what sort of experience the audience would have. The British Museum describes it as an “exclusive private view of the exhibition”. It screened live in the UK on 24th April and is now being repeated for international audiences.

So was it any good?  

I’m going to say this up front. This wasn’t any better or any worse than going to see an exhibition in person; it’s just different. The screening lasted 90 minutes and had the feel of a high-quality BBC documentary. A bit like Springwatch, but in a museum! It was divided into themes such as ships, women and homelands, just like sections in an exhibition. Overall, I found the content very entertaining and got a lot from it. I thought it was brave of the British Museum to try something so far outside the comfort zone of a museum. Let’s face it, most curators aren’t great in front of a camera and don’t have a Scooby-Doo about producing content for cinemas. I can only imagine how much work went into it.

The best bits:

  • It made the British Museum look super cool. Anyone watching must have been thinking about how they can visit in person.
  • Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGegor giving the background to the exhibition. It really helped me place the exhibition in the landscape of current international research and partnerships.
  • The strong focus on the recent finds gave an up-to-date understanding of Viking culture.
  • I loved seeing the replica ship made by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

The not so good:

  • I felt my experience of the event was less enjoyable than those who got the chance to watch it live. The British Museum did a really good job on social media creating a bit of a ‘hype’ for the live-viewing. The audience felt as if they were part of something really special. For example, you could ask questions which were answered towards the end of the screening. Watching it several weeks later in Australia felt a bit lonely. There wasn’t that buzz on my twitter timeline making me feel as if I was part of something bigger.
  • I have some doubt about if audience expectations were met. The publicity described it as a “guided tour”, but it was really more of a documentary. There were lots of interviews with experts and not so much close-up focus on all the objects. Some special items were highlighted, but the comments on this British Museum blog post show that some people were expecting to see more of the objects. This didn’t bother me, but then again, unlike most people I’m lucky enough to be visiting the exhibition later this month.
  • Cringe moment – the curator of the exhibition dressing up as a sweaty Viking. Come on Gareth, I’ll admit you were good but while your armour may give a +3 defense, overall it was a -5 for the cool-factor.

Amy Dale wearing a viking helmet


Talking about dressing up as a Viking… there’s a great little bit on the website where you can ‘Viking Yourself’ by covering a photo in blingy objects from the exhibition. How could I resit?



In the eternal quest for museum understanding and knowledge, I’ll be visiting the Vikings exhibition in person (in actual London) at the end of June. Watch this space for my thoughts on how it compares with the cinema screening.

Bye for now…

Sign off





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10 thoughts on “Vikings Live at a cinema near me!

  1. Was it busy, Amy? Were there any ‘calls to action’ by the BM to enable people to make a visit or have another experience? I keep missing the opportunity to see these live….looking forward to your real review and how it compares to last years NMS exhibit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Dale says:

      The cinema was about half full, which is a good turn out for Adelaide (not many people here you see!). Although, I did note that it was a more mature audience. There wasn’t an obvious call to action at the end. They only displayed the hashtag. This wasn’t shown at the start for some reason. Thanks for your comment Mark!


  2. I agree with all of your insights about the exhibit Amy. Museums are often the publics interface with history and material culture, but what if that museum is a world away? This is the next logical step in public engagement with archaeology on a global scale is to fit the needs of a globalised world. I am a Canadian, studying maritime archaeology in Australia, who watched a Viking exhibit in the UK sitting in an Adelaide theatre.

    Whilst this engagement offered by cinemas is a means to visit the great museums in the world without the jet lag and the travel costs, the biggest issue I had with the exhibit was the lack of autonomy. I was shown what THEY wanted me to see. I know that this is the case with most museum exhibits, but the loss of power to hover near artefacts or show pieces that speak to you as an individual is lost. What may be important to one person is not for another.

    Another issue I had was the dialogue that sometimes occurred within the film that was detrimental to archaeological pursuits. When Neil MacGegor mentioned an artefact he would like to ‘steal if he could steal anything’ made me cringe. If the Director of the British Museum thinks about the material culture within his museum as ‘treasure’ or ‘loot’ to be plundered and pined after, then how can we show the public that the value is beyond financial but universal in its significance to humanity?

    All in all, as Amy stated above in her wonderful blog, it is the next logical step in the future of public outreach for museums. I will be very interested to see how the actual exhibit fares compared to the ‘digital’ one, so yes please blog about that! The museum-nerd in me wants other museums to showcase their exhibits in the same way so that I may travel the world and view its glorious history for myself (in a digital sense), however the maritime archaeologist in me wants to see this media type be taken more seriously with a lot of thought towards the subtle and not-so-subtle messages delivered to the public. This ‘one small step for museums..’ moment is exciting indeed and the future seems as bright as a projector light!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Dale says:

      I agree Chelsea, the cinema experience did lack an element personal choice you have when you wonder around a gallery. However, museums are used to picking objects for people to focus on. An exhibition, by it’s nature, is a selection of items the curator has chosen for you from a massive long list.

      I think the word ‘treasure’ get slipped in when museums are trying to make something sound exciting. However, on occasion, I can see how this might not give out the right messages to the public about archaeology.


  3. culturesian says:

    Overall I loved the chance to see my beloved British Museum, the new exhibition wing that I’ve heard so much about and to get a bit of a taste of London again. While living in London the BM was a regular visiting place for me and hubby and I was so sad not to be able to attend the Vikings exhibition.

    So when I found out about the film I was delighted! I saw a sneak preview video so had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Amy’s likening it to Springwatch was exactly my thought! It was a bit out of whack with that aspect of it – because I really felt the distance and that it wasn’t really ‘live’ for me, but I still thought it was a great film to show, and the funeral procession gave me a few giggles – hubby and I wondered how difficult it had been for the producers to find people willing to dress up?

    My highlights were the interviews and the doco feel with extra information from experts, but really missing was more visual on the pieces themselves.

    I understand that it was kind of a recycled piece of video to show to the rest of the world – on UK screens i’m sure they didn’t want to give too much away! But if the BM do this again I’d love to have a ‘walk through’ of the exhibition, with a few more focus on the pieces.

    Personally I loved how into Vikings curator Gareth was – sure, he showed himself up as a huge nerd in his costume – but if the curator of the exhibition isn’t passionate about his job, then what hope do we have of enjoying it?

    I’ve seen a few ‘National Theatre’ shows at the cinema and it’s really a new genre. I hope to see more of this as I’m not heading back to London any time soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Dale says:

      Hi Sian, I think your view about wanting to see more of the objects is spot on. It chimes with what a lot of other people have been saying online. A ‘walk-through’ sounds like a good idea and something audiences would enjoy too. Thanks for adding your comment and lets hope more live cinema events come to Oz in the future!


  4. That was a really insightful review and I agree about some of the more cringe-worthy moments – the image of a sweaty curator dressed in chain mail will not leave my mind, for one.

    I’ve been to the exhibition and am going again on Friday as it’s a case study for my MA dissertation, which is looking at the way the Viking Age is communicated to the public through museums. I’m particularly looking at the way that this communication has changed over the last thirty or so years, and trying to identify the driving factors for this change. Neil Macgregor, the director, said in the program that new information/new finds have driven the need for a new Viking exhibition at the BM. I think this is an oversimplification and ignores the development of postmodern theory, but that might have been a bit dry for a cinema-going audience!

    One thing I’ve found through my research is that the ‘global’ nature of the Viking Age is being investigated and displayed. The Viking Age is being opened up to the whole world. One-thousand-year-old trade networks, cultural contacts and travel routes make the tenth-century world seem so much smaller than we thought, and isn’t our own world small when we can beam an exhibition in London about the Vikings to Australia and NZ? As an aside, I’m an Australian living in the UK, so my own world seems small thanks to technology.

    One thing about personal choice: the exhibition in real life is extremely popular, and so it was packed out when I was there on a random Tuesday afternoon. Not a lot of personal choice about what to look at, as everyone had to line up to move around the exhibits. The film allowed me to actually see some of the things I had not been able to see in person, so I’m not sure that seeing the film limited interaction.

    Great review, and some really interesting and insightful comments.


    • Amy Dale says:

      Thanks for your great comments Aleshia. It’s interesting what you say about Neil MacGregor’s oversimplification. Although, I do think new finds will always be a main driving force for exhibitions, as it boils down to showing cool stuff right?

      I’m not surprised to hear the exhibition was busy. I’ve been to a few exhibitions at the BM where you move around in a line of people. It doesn’t make for the best visitor experience, but I’m glad that so many people are keen to go to museums.


  5. Claire says:

    I am in complete agreement with your comments on this Amy. I think that the Live experience complemented a visit to the museum, although it does provide a great opportunity for everyone to see what is there even if they can’t make it to the museum themselves. I did feel that they didn’t spend enough time on the artifacts, however I always find it interesting to hear from the experts about their favorite items and the reasons behind choosing certain objects to display.

    As a reenactor myself I did appreciate the curator taking time to look uncomfortable and sweaty in order to show us some quite accurate kit (although the amount of rust on his sword, shield boss and helmet would not make them safe to use at an historical reenactment event). However, perhaps they could have grabbed one of Regia Anglorums members from out front to pose whilst he talked about it without having to sweat so much!

    The most disappointing point to make about the cinema event was the lack of focus on trade. One of the main ideas behind presenting the Vikings exhibition was to prove to the public (who I can appreciate enjoy the more thrilling side of the raiding) that Vikings were socially orientated people… with lives… and skills other than swordsmanship. This theme can be seen from visiting the museum itself, however it was distinctly lacking from the Vikings Live event.

    But all in all I found it very informative and complementary to my two visits to the museum.



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