The moment in August 2019 when then President Trump lobbied to buy Greenland for the US was hardly the first time it had drawn covetous attention. Hardy Netflix survival drama Against the Ice rewinds to 1909, when a supposed northeastern channel has excited American claims to the territory. With a prior Danish venture to map the island lost, retrieving their work has fallen to two Nordic explorers making a 400-mile round trip by dog sled. The truth-based story is told here with what action-movie flourishes the budget can allow.
Peter Flinth’s film sets itself up with neat economy. That captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, also the writer) attracts no trained volunteers to go with him says much about the perils of the journey – and about his manner, which in 2022 would politely be called “driven”. In the end, the only candidate is Icelandic engineer Iver Iversen (Joe Cole). His own nature is revealed by a fond attachment to the dogs and an ironclad, can-do optimism. At least some of that comes from a total lack of relevant experience.
To the question of what could go wrong, the answer is: the lot. Some scenes offer useful hacks for arctic exploration; others brutal lessons in logistics. Mostly, though, the story concerns the sheer grind of time. (Spoiler: we reach Day 865). The risk for the makers is capturing that without grinding us down too. The odd-couple dynamics of Cole and Coster-Waldau just about allow the gamble to come off.
Another tale of extreme cartography comes with widescreen documentary The Sanctity of Space. In part, the film hymns pioneer mountain photographer Brad Washburn, his 1930s images of the Alaskan peak Denali breathtaking artworks originally meant as simple aids to climbers.
A physical tribute also comes from cinematographer Renan Ozturk, who alongside co-director Freddie Wilkinson films their scaling of the nearby Moose’s Tooth traverse, another Washburn subject. Moments of awe and tranquility are rarely free of mortal danger. In the week of the latest grim report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, both films also share a deep vein of melancholy.
‘Against the Ice’ is on Netflix now
‘The Sanctity of Space’ is in UK cinemas from March 4