Beowulf “The Return” Review (Season 1, Episode 1) [Series Premiere]


The new ITV Network (the commercial TV network in the United Kingdom) drama Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands – known here in the United States simply as Beowulf – made its debut on the Esquire Network on Saturday night.

The Scandinavian hero Beowulf is on full display in the series very much like the legendary poem for which he is featured. You know that poem that is 3,182 lines long. The poem that is considered to be the predecessor to all other tales of monsters and dragons; the oldest known poem in Old English.

In scholarly society – well, really to almost anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the poem and the tale of Beowulf – would admit that the untitled poem that was written sometime between the 8th and early 11th Century by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet laid the groundwork for classic tales like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones among countless other tales of swords and sorcery, wizards and witches, dragons and slayers and of monsters and men.

All of those fantastical stories have similarities but usually there are enough differences to make them appealing to the countless avid readers and viewers out there clamoring for a chance to escape to another world. Beowulf (the series) does that in its own way, but its perhaps one more show too many that is set in a distant time.

The series opens with young Beowulf defeating a “mudborn beast” (think of this creature like a bull crossed with a gorilla – at least that’s how it appeared to me) that took his father’s life, leading to the young boy being taken in by the Thane of Herot, Hrothgar (think of him as the King of the Shieldlands). Then take a time leap about 20 years in the future with Beowulf returning to Herot with his best friend Breca in tow.

Of course, Beowulf left his adopted home on bad terms and is not really welcome especially by his “half-brother” Slean (isn’t this one of the worst names you’ve heard in a swords and sheepskin drama?) and his less-than-interested adopted mother Rheda. As you can imagine, Hrothgar has passed away, leaving Beowulf not only without an ally in Herot but also with a huge amount of guilt about not being able to reconcile with his adoptive father.

The one saving grace in Beowulf is the divine Laura Donnelly, who avid viewers of the beloved Outlander series on Starz will recognize as Jamie’s sister Jenny. Donnelly plays Elvina, the healer and translator of Herot and the love interest to Slean (I still don’t like this name and don’t think I ever will). Elvina adds a much needed amount of levity to an otherwise dark story and an overwhelming amount of courage that seems to be lacking by a number of the men in this series.

The series consists of 13 episodes – depending on how fast you read, it might take you that long to get through and understand the lengthy poem – and it is too soon to make a determination if ‘Beowulf’ will have more life beyond that; but I’ll be along for the ride for right now if for no other reason than Laura Donnelly.

What are your opinions on ‘Beowulf’? Are you tired of all the period piece dramas with monsters and swords? Are you excited to see how the poem will be adapted to the small screen? Did you watch simply to see William Hurt as Hrothgar? Please share your thoughts about the show below.

And if you want to see what happens next, the next episode of the debut season of ‘Beowulf’ will air on the Esquire Network on Saturday, January 30 at 10/9c.

Kieran Bew as Beowulf
Gisli Orn Gardarsson as Breca
Edward Hogg as Varr
William Hurt as Hrothgar
Joanne Whalley as Rheda
Edward Speleers as Slean
Laura Donnelly as Elvina
Elliot Cowan as Abrican
Ellora Torchia as Vishka
Lolita Chabrabarti as Lila

Guest Stars:
Nigel Cooke as Bayen
Jack Hollington as Young Beowulf
George Kent as Young Slean
Alex Price as Koll
Jack Rowan as Brini