Dear readers, I hope you know that I suffer so you don’t have to. I watch the shows that gets a lot of excited previews but leave you confused and disappointed. I’ll haul the coal, deal with the pressure and present to you the diamonds. As we all know, your telly time is limited and you don’t want to waste it on stinkers. Treat this blog as a (highly subjective) guide to avoiding the stench.
I was really looking forward to Beowulf Return to the Shield Lands (ITV) but what in the fuck was that all about? It didn’t help that I was watching it with a fan of the poem. Immediately Mr H was saying “nope” to all the characters and plot developments that weren’t true to the original. The first five minutes made him sound like a beatbox. From the get-go it was like a class of primary school children had decided to do scenes from Game of Thrones as their school play. Their teacher should be fired.
It’d be less time consuming to tell you what was right with the show than what was wrong. The plot is all wrong. It has a passing resemblance to the epic poem in that some of the names are the same. It’s a very different story, made sort of soapy with different characters, warring factions and a struggle for power all wedged in awkwardly.
The horrible script left the able actors stranded, looking confused like they were attempting Fermat’s Last Theorem with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and an unsharpened pencil. How can they possibly make you care for a character when they have nothing worth saying? It’s an impossible task.
I’m a big fan of the Beowulf movie adaptation from 2007 where the love of the source material shines through, almost as shiny as Ray Winstone’s improbably animated pecs. If only it we could all be animated as kindly. Adaptations are fine but this leads me to the importance of originality. Why give use the characters names if they bear no resemblance at all to the original poem? Is it easier to give a recognisable title to a project you’re worried no one will watch? You can’t piggy back on a big name of any kind if you’re not going to be able to do it justice. That’s the kind of gamble that leaves everyone disappointed.
Fantasy is a tough genre. You have fit realistic characters into totally unrealistic story-lines. Your audience has to empathise with kings, slaves, warfare, sword play and sometimes (though not in Beowulf) dragons. The characters and their motivations have to be relatable – you don’t have to like them, but you have to appreciate how their mind works.
Writers and directors walk a fine line to find the balance of explanation and “show not tell” to set these characters in what could be a real world. I like a lengthy discussion of religion, history and politics in a made-up universe, but then I’m a total geek for learning. Not everyone is like that. Somehow you need to make everything believable, so the audience wills you along and ignores any clunky dialogue, the dull minor characters or the cardboard sets wobbling.
For a master-class in this you need look no further than the mega-hit Game of Thrones. George R R Martin and the HBO team have created a classic tv drama, and skilfully navigate our way through an enormous, rich and inviting world, balancing a complex interconnecting cast of thousands. The motivations of the characters (greed, power, love, duty and really, really hating your family) are all very recognisable and you can empathise with them all – even the really despicable guys (hello Tywin Lannister, and Stannis, how could you! I thought you were alright). Not to get too soppy, but Westeros is a bit like Narnia. You can imagine finding the right portal and being able to walk through and wander around – as long as you were well-armed. It’s so precisely defined it probably exists somewhere in a parallel universe. Although I doubt the door would be a wardrobe. It’d probably be a dank corner of a morgue or under the top table at a really awkward family wedding.
Beowulf looks very beautiful, and the locations in County Durham have been chosen with great skill, but that’s not enough. I’m in total agreement with Steve on Twitter:
And a good attempt from the Captain – much more stamina than I’ve got:
Sadly I’m done. And the waiting for the return of Game of Thrones begins again.
Some episodes of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands are still available on ITV online. Do yourself a favour and don’t bother.
Game of Thrones Series 6 begins on Sky Atlantic on 25th April at 9pm. Yay!