October 14, 2016

Despite a standard character arc, Long Way North manages to feel fresh and original

Chris Knight / National Post

The Northeast Passage, an Arctic sea route over the top of the world, looms as large in the Russian imagination as the Northwest Passage does in ours, and is responsible for about as much heartbreak; during the period from 1877 to 1919, more than a third of planned convoys along the route failed. Now a Danish-French production team has crafted a story that speaks to those long-ago polar peregrinators.

Released in French territories as Tout en haut du monde and set in 1882, Long Way North tells the (fictional) story of Captain Oloukine, whose Russian icebreaker, the Davaï, is missing and presumed destroyed somewhere near the top of the world. But his headstrong granddaughter, 15-year-old Sasha (Chloe Dunn), finds some papers in his library that suggest would-be rescuers have been looking in the wrong place.

Sasha is an aristocrat by birth, which means no on will listen to her theory, and so she runs away from home and books passage on a northbound ship. While awaiting its departure, she earns her keep working as a waitress and dogsbody in a café. It’s the old princess-forced-to-be-a-commoner routine, and true to form she’s uncommonly good at it. Soon she’ll further prove her mettle when her ship runs into treacherous conditions in the Far North.

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