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An Icelander offers their verdict on Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
(Image credit: Netflix)

In Netflix's latest movie, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga, Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play two childhood friends who live in a small town in Iceland. We thought to ask our resident Icelander what he makes of the new movie, and how accurate Pierce Brosnan's Icelandic is...

Endearing enough to undoubtedly become a fan cult fave, Eurovision is a tame comedy that neither manages to be an over-the-top satire of the majestic campiness of Eurovision nor quite a heartfelt love letter to a cross-continental celebration of diversity and inclusion and synthesisers. 

It has some genuine moments of hilarity, especially when it confines itself to small-town Iceland or lets a gloriously camp Dan Stevens chew on the extravagant scenery – and his struggle with Russian oppression of LGBT+ people is the most emotionally resonant element of the film. Ferrell and McAdams' chemistry may be lacking, McAdams’ gives a lovely performance as a hippy-lite small-town singing/songwriting dreamer. Somehow the “Eurovision” songs are less cartoonish than the real Eurovision, and we never get a satisfactory explanation as to why the contest is being held in Scotland when it’s clearly stated that “everyone hates the UK”.

In fact, the most egregious crimes this film commits are linked to the contest itself, rather than any feared mockery of Icelanders, who seem to have largely embraced the film. There are seven performers on stage in Sweden’s act (that’s an automatic disqualification), instruments are plugged in (banned outright because no one wants to wait around for techies to get the stage ready each act), and Ferrell’s Lars manages to stop a song on the stage (remember when SuRie literally got decked by a stage invader and they didn’t even lower the playback volume?) to name just a few of the worst violations.

But how does it do when it comes to its Icelandic elements? Let’s go through it question by question. 

new Netflix June 2020

(Image credit: Netflix)

Does everyone in Iceland pretend to hate Eurovision but still watch it anyway? 

Yes. Eurovision in 2019 had a 98.4% share of the Icelandic TV audience, with at least 67% of the entire nation watching at any given time throughout the three-hour programme. If the same percentage of UK persons watch Eurovision, that would equate to about 43.5 million viewers in the UK alone.

Do Icelanders really believe in elves?

No. What’s factually real doesn’t require belief. Only acknowledgement. While we do occasionally call them álfar (elves), we prefer to call them huldufólk, or hidden people. Fun fact: If they ever move, they do so on New Year’s Eve.

Is there a single “correct” Icelandic name in the film?

Yes. One, Arnar the cop. All the others are either Swedish (Lars, Olaf) or the sort of thing you can only get from a Hollywood script consultant who spent about 18 seconds googling Nordic names. The worst? Ólafur Darri’s “Neils Brongus” – a name that looks and sounds like a linguist having a stroke.

Speaking of Arnar the cop. Where do I know him from? 

He plays King Eist of Cintra in The Witcher.

Do Icelanders really dress like that?

Yes.

Is Will Ferrell’s accent awful?

Yes. In fact, it’s more Swedish than Icelandic, but as long as it’s not Danish, he’s forgiven.

Is the guy shouting "Ja Ja Ding Dong" at Fire Saga an offensive stereotype of an angry Icelandic small-town saddo?

Not even a little bit. I could name about 20 people both me and Hannes (the actor who plays him) know personally that he’s basing this guy on. And yes, the "Ja Ja Ding Dong" Guy is the funniest thing in this film.

How bad is Pierce Brosnan’s Icelandic in the opening scene?

It’s worse than the Icelandic in Jim Caviezel’s Outlander, but better than the Icelandic in The Golden Compass. 

Do Icelanders really hate American tourists that much? 

Yep.

Why is there no mention of Björk?

No one in Iceland ever talks about Björk. She’s not even played on radio, except for one jazz album she made with a local band in 1990. You’ll get more exposure to Björk in any given 25 minutes on BBC Radio 6 Music than in a year in Iceland.

How many times have you watched the "Ja Ja Ding Dong" Guy’s Best Bits video on YouTube in the last 36 hours? 

Too many.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sage is available now on Netflix. For more watching recommendations, check out our list of the best Netflix movies currently streaming.