ITV to turn Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf into a western

The centuries-old text will be turned into "a western set in the Dark Ages of Britain’s mythic past"

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Hwæt! (Listen up) – Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf is headed to a screen near you.

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ITV are planning to turn the scourge of secondary school English classrooms into a Game of Thrones-style drama, described in a release as “an epic re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest and most enduring heroes.”

The epic prose work (which actually has no title but is usually called Beowulf) sees a Scandinavian warrior come to the aid of Danish King Hrothgar, whose home is under attack from a twisted creature called Grendel. Later, Beowulf defeats the monster’s mother before returning home to Sweden to be crowned king, and many years later battles a dragon.

While broadly following this plot, the ITV adaptation appears to be changing some details, describing the series as “a western set in the Dark Ages of Britain’s mythic past”. Rather than Denmark, the action will take place in the mythical “Shieldlands” where King Hrothgar is already dead and replaced with a female leader (or “Thane”). Apparently it will focus on Beowulf’s personal journey as well as the politics of the region.

The drama will be filmed in the north-east of England, with shooting expected to start in April of next year. As yet there has been no cast announcement.

Writer and executive producer James Dormer said: “Hundreds of years ago our ancestors listened to the story of Beowulf because it was a great adventure story – it scared them, thrilled them, made them laugh and cry.” 

“But they also listened because they recognised themselves and their fears in it. By holding a mirror up to them this story helped define them and thus – us. So it’s incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to make it relevant again for a wide audience.”

Probably the longest poem still surviving in the Germanic language of Old English (it’s believed to have been written between the 8th and 11th century), Beowulf is usually read in translation with the version by Irish poet Seamus Heaney one of the most popular interpretations. There are also many other works based on the story, including comic book verions and a novel by Michael Morpurgo released last year.

In fact, it’s not even the first time the Old English prose work has appeared on screen in present day English– in 2007, Ray Winstone played the lead role in a motion-captured interpretation (above video) by Robert Zemeckis which also starred Crispin Glover as Grendel and Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother.

The film was poorly received and it could be seen as surprising that someone else would attempt to find a hit by adapting the poem again–still, perhaps it was always inevitable.

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To quote the poem itself, Gæð a wyrd swa hio scel – in other words, Fate always goes as she must.