Rick Trivett gives his spoiler free first impressions for the opening episode of the new ITV drama, Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands.
I have to admit, it was with some trepidation that I watched the first episode of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Beowulf is one of those legends that is so entrenched in my psyche and I didn’t want to see it spoilt. I was lucky enough to have a headmaster at school, who delighted in the classics and would recount to us the great myths and legends. And, with the destruction of so many classic tales on television (Merlin, Atlantis, Robin Hood etc.), I was very wary from the first time I saw it advertised. What were they going to do with it? Was it going to be the classical tale, just something making use of the characters?
As I peeked out at the opening sequence I was pleasantly surprised. The production values (the series is produced by ITV Studios) were really good. Since Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings we have all got used to seeing beautifully crafted weapons, but in TV land it is usually the armour that lets it down. People running around in knitted chainmail and cast plastic or aluminium plate. But in Beowulf the armour looks as good as the weaponry, AND it is in keeping with the period. No sets of medieval plate a millennium early here! The settlement is also believable, showing some serious thought has gone into this, and the set dressings are all beautifully Nordic/Celtic.
So, does the acting or screenplay let it down? With only the first episode to go on, I’d say that was a no. Kieran Bew plays the lead, and is ably supported by a host of stars from the small screen. No one looks or acts out of place. Each is introduced to us in turn, in a well paced but informative way. The flashbacks used help with both grounding the characters and the back-story. The fight sequences are tight, well choreographed and not overly long. If you have ever tried swinging a sword around, you will know how exhausting it really is. The creators of the program (James Dormer, Tim Haines and Katie Newman) have done a good job of explaining the setting, the Shieldlands, and the general lay of the land.
The CGI effects for the “evil” ones have received a drubbing in the press, and the story has been criticised for not following the original. Well, firstly, the fierce creatures actually come across as fierce, and are unique and convincing in appearance. And, second, the whole story of Beowulf could be told in 45 minutes, so there is room to manoeuvre with twelve 45 minute episodes. They managed to stretch Merlin out for 65 dull and predictable episodes FFS!
I don’t want to say anymore, because I don’t want to give anything away in terms of the plot etc. However, much of the location work was done in the beautiful north-east of England and the scenery provides a feast for the eyes. I will also say, that if you like your myths and legends, there is nothing here to spoil them, not so far anyway. I found it nicely paced, and with a believable cast, setting, and backstory. If you liked LOTR then I see nothing that you would find offensive here. My only gripe (and it is just me being picky) was the scene with the blacksmith for lots of trivial reasons. Bring on the second episode!
R.J.Trivett (Rick) is the writer of comic fantasy series the Lyonnesse Tales. www.lyonnessetales.com
He hasn’t been able to give up the day-job yet, whatever it is, but
lives in high hopes. When not reading, writing or watching a boxset, he
tours around the UK and Europe on a motorcycle looking for interesting
roads and sampling the local equivalent of beer.