NOR-CON 6 (Event Review)

NOR-CON 6 Norfolk TV Film and Comic Con

Saturday 8th October 2016, 9:30am-6:00pm – Norfolk Showground – £10.00 standard entry


After taking 2015 off, Norfolk’s premier TV, film and comic convention (or Nor-Con for short) returned to East Anglia earlier today for its sixth (almost-)annual celebration of all things geek and cult.

… Keep Scuttling!

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, 1.1 (TV Review)

ITV – 3rd January – 60mins
Written by: James Dormer
Directed by: Jon East


Having studied Seamus Heaney’s Whitbread award-winning translation at University, and having recently rewatched Robert Zemeckis’ uncanny performance-captured 2007 feature film adaptation, I felt relatively well-versed going in to the first episode of ITV’s epic 13-part re-imagining of the classic Anglo Saxon poem.

But what quickly became apparent as I tuned in this past Sunday evening was how just as well prepared for Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands I would have been had I just binge-watched old episodes of Game of Thrones – for James Dormer, Tim Primeval Haines and Katie Newman’s fantasy adventure is just as indebted to the hit HBO show as it is to its source material! Did anyone else think they had sat on the remote and flicked over to Sky Atlantic when the copyright-skirtingly comparable opening credits began?

But as much as Beowulf strives to emulate GoT’s lavish production design, vast landscapes and silver screen-sheen (all of which it achieved, up to a point), this was still very much Sunday evening fare. We saw no more than the before and after of any sexual relations and the sword fighting was choppily edited so to imply more than it showed. The continuity announcer did issue a “scary scenes” warning pre-broadcast, but this was no doubt more to avoid another Jekyll & Hyde-style scheduling controversy rather than because the CGI “mudborns” – which looked like a cross between Caesar the ape and Gollum – were all that nightmare-inducing.

Indeed, the most controversial aspect of this series premiere was the liberties co-creator Dormer’s script took with the Old English legend. The basic premise is familiar – our returning warrior (Kieran Bew) takes up arms to save his home from the threat of the monstrous Grendel – but the specifics of the location have been blurred from Scandinavia to the titular “Shieldlands”, while a deeper relationship between the banished Beowulf and the family of deceased King Hrothgar (William Hurt) was established so to embellish the human drama and justify a lengthier series run.

On the performance front, Bew will make for an interesting lead, given his less-than-dashing coarseness, while the inclusion of a sarcastic sidekick in Abrican (Elliot Cowan) may not have been such an unnecessary embellishment were it not for the actor’s uncharismatic delivery. Eragon star Ed Speleers, meanwhile, does perhaps overegg his sneering snideness as the Queen’s jealous son. He also looks a little young to be of similar same to Beowulf, as a multitude of flashbacks substantiated.

Return to the Shieldlands may never be as glossy or epic as the classics it is vying to compete with, but it has established itself as a plucky and trying underdog. The action sequences were decent – in particular an opening beach chase which ended with a beastie taking an axe to the head (the sole graphic concession) – and the Northumberland locales felt believably luscious and “lived in” – even when aided by CGI. Mist-shrouded woodland was an especially atmospheric choice for a third act showdown, while the deserted land of the giants was magnificently rendered and brought to mind the Mines of Moria from The Lord of the Rings.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars