Beowulf and Christianity

Just got a release schedule from a Canadian publicist. It included the following blurb about Beowulf & Grendel, an upcoming Sturla Gunnarsson film starring Gerard Butler (Dear Frankie), Sarah Polley and Stellan Skarsgärd:

Adapted from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, that inspired J. R. Tolkein’s Lord Of The Rings, BEOWULF & GRENDEL is a medieval adventure that tells the blood-soaked tale of a Norse warrior’s battle against the great and murderous troll, Grendel. Heads will roll in this provocative take on the first work of English literature. The story is set in barbarous Northern Europe where the reign of the many-gods is giving way to one — the southern invader, Christ. Beowulf is a man caught between sides in this great shift, his simple code transforming and falling apart before his eyes. Building toward an inevitable and terrible battle, BEOWULF & GRENDEL strips away the mask of the hero-myth, leaving a raw and tangled tale that rings true through the centuries. Joining Gerard Butler (Phantom of the Opera) in the role of his formidable adversary, Grendel, will be Iceland’s greatest actor, Ingvar Sigurdsson.

Hmmmm. The only other recent Beowulf movie I can think of — and even then, it was given the demythologizing, historical revisionist treatment — is John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior (1999), and that one was based on Michael Crichton’s novel about a Muslim travelling with pagan Vikings. Could be interesting to see how Christianity gets mixed in here — especially if it plays some part in stripping away the pagan hero myth.

As for director Gunnarsson, he is an Iceland-born graduate of UBC (my own alma mater), and the only films of his I have seen are Such a Long Journey (1998), Scorn (2000) and Rare Birds (2001), all of which were at least okay. Apparently he also directed the TV version of The Diary of Evelyn Lau (1993), which made Sandra Oh (of Double Happiness and Sideways fame) a star.

Beowulf & Grendel is scheduled for a release in “Fall 2005″, so it will probably make the rounds when the Canadian festival circuit kicks off in September. I’ll keep my eyes open.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • Donna Farley

    Hi, Peter,

    The futuristic Beowulf starring Christopher Lambert came out the same year as 13th Warrior, but I’ve only seen the latter. There is also a rather strange animated treatment from 1982 called Grendel, Grendel, Grendel, based on John Gardner’s deconstructive novel titled just Grendel. –