Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Beowulf and Grendel

directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

Beowulf and Grendel poster  
A boy tumbles playfully through a meadow with his father in tow in a scene of pastoral bliss. But that boy is Grendel, and on close inspection he's nearly as hairy as a monkey. The peace is broken by armed horsemen, and in an instant of violence the seeds of a great hatred are sown.

Beowulf and Grendel was clearly made on a shoestring budget, so special effects are minimal. The adult Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson) compensates for this with convincingly troll-like behaviour. Grendel moves with an odd stooped gait, and he grunts and wails, speaking very few words throughout the entire film. Sigurdsson's performance is remarkable. By contrast King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård) and his court seem far more civilised as they take part in a ceremony to mark the opening of their new hall. But that counts for little when Grendel visits and slaughters many of the armed men inside.

Beowulf (Gerard Butler) is a hero of the traditional sort: long hair, sharp sword, rippling muscles and an acute sense of honour. When he hears of the Danes' problems he can't help but vow to go and kill their troll, for the sake of the glory of the Geats, and for his distant Danish kin.

The language in this film is extremely earthy, and the are people plain-spoken and rough around the edges, if not downright grubby. They believe in the Norse gods and in Valhalla. But as Grendel continues his reign of terror their faith starts to slip. This is the perfect opening for Father Brendan (Eddie Marsan), a Celtic priest who has come to spread Christianity to the Danes.

Beowulf takes some time to engage Grendel in battle, but the longer he stays the more he realises that he's not being told the whole truth. Beowulf goes to ask advice of Selma (Sarah Polley), a witch who has the power to know when and how people will die. She's an outsider, and almost as much of a pariah as Grendel himself.

This version of the Beowulf legend involves a fair amount of fighting, as you might expect. But it's not glamorised, it's not splattery or gory, and the fighting doesn't dominate the narrative. Beowulf and Grendel is a thoughtful interpretation of the story, observing the casual cruelty of prejudice, and the way people change tales until they evolve into propaganda and myth.

This film benefits from a strong cast of little-known actors. Their convincing performances are as eye-catching as any number of effects. Moreover this movie has a good script, particularly if you aren't offended by bad language. Perhaps the most glaring flaw is Grendel's mother, who appears only briefly. Unfortunately she looks like a creature from a 1960s episode of Star Trek, and it's easy to tell that her troll skin is obviously clothing.

Aside from that, this is a well-paced and interesting film. The old epic has been reworked into a realistic, rough, and vigorous story that is nevertheless very perceptive.

Film Details

Year: 2005

Categories: Films


Classification: 15

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson