Beowulf and Grendel is based on the Old English epic poem of the same name. It follows Beowulf, a Geat, who travels with his compatriots to Denmark and the realm of King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård), which is besieged by a great monster, Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson). Beowulf repeatedly tries to draw Grendel out to do battle, but soon finds from the witch Selma (Sarah Polley) that there may be more the story than meets the eye.
Historical purists will probably take issue with the portrayal of the story and with the dialogue. However, judged on its own merits, Beowulf and Grendel is a fine film. The film looks epic, thanks to the on-location filming in Iceland. Gerard Butler is suitably heroic, and Ingvar Sigurdsson does well with a role that has essentially no dialogue, what with being a sub-human troll and all. Screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins makes use of slightly more contemporary language in the script, but without any ill effect. Director Sturla Gunnarsson has made some interesting casting choices, with Scots actors as the Geats (who are actually from Sweden), Nordic actors as the Danes, and Canadian Sarah Polley as Selma. The cast acquits themselves well, including Polley, whose Canadian accent serves to show her character's isolation from the rest of the community.
Director Sturla Gunnarsson, screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins, and actor Tony Curran did a Q&A after the film:
- They took a lot liberty with the story, especially as the poem has speeches that go on for pages and which would be unfilmable. They decided to cut loose from it right away, and instead portray the story that would become the poem. As Gunnarsson put it, they tried to be true to "the bones of the story." Since the poem dates back to a Norse oral tradition, where poets would embellish stories with each telling, Gunnarsson felt they could do some of the same.
- There were a number of problems during filming, as they started shooting several months later than planned. At the time, there were a lot of hurricanes in the Atlantic, which results in very high winds. They lost four base camps, and in a single day lost eight vehicles to the 150 km/h winds.
- The ship used by the Geats is actually the Islendingur, a replica of a Viking ship from 870 AD, originally built to commemorate the anniversary of Leif Ericson's voyage to North America. The boat leaked, so four fire pumps were required to keep it afloat. However, for long shots of the boat in an iceberg-filled lagoon, the pumps had to be shut off and footage gathered quickly.
- Grendel is supposed to have the strength of 30 men, but at the same time he is not a god, which it makes hard to portray him on screen. They didn't want to create a fantastical movie, so they decided early on not to use any CG for Grendel.
- The horses used in the movie are Icelandic horses, which have three gaits unique to the breed. These gaits are uniquely suited to travel over the rocky terrain.
- The palette for the costumes if taken from the landscape. Silk was used for the costumes instead of cotton, simply because it hangs better on the actors.
- When casting Beowulf, they wanted someone unambiguously masculine, who could act, and who could bring some complexity to the role. Gunnarsson had seen some of Gerard Butler's films. While they weren't his cup of tea, he did find that Butler jumped off the screen.
- Gunnarsson and Sarah Polley have known one another for years. She loves Iceland and had asked to be cast in whatever he decided to film there next. Gunnarsson feels that Polley brings something to the moral conscience of the story.
- For Grendel, Gunnarsson had consulted with creature makeup director Nick Dudman, who has also worked on the Harry Potter films Dudman said that he could build prosthetics, but it would really all come from the actor.
- Ingvar Sigurdsson read the script and was drawn to Grendel without any prompting from Gunnarsson. While in a bookstore in Reykjavik, an American tourist noticed that script and recommended John Gardner's book Grendel, which tells the story from Grendel's perspective.
- They weren't originally allowed to cast Stellan Skarsgård as he is not from the UK, Iceland, or Canada. On appeal to the UK authorities, they eventually agreed that it would be all right for a Norseman to play another Norseman.
- They wanted the Geats to look like a gang of bikers, not some sort of museum piece.
- On the use of humour in the script, Berzins said that there is humour in everything, and that he is frustrated by historical movies with no humour.
- Berzins said about the use of the f-word in the movie that the f-word is actually quite old, but he does realize that some people are brought forward in time when they hear it. Skarsgård was originally not a fan of its use, but by the end he was using it quite liberally.
- They tried to stay close to the story, but in the original, none of the characters have much in the way of motivation; Grendel just shows up and starts killing people. They felt that either he's simply evil, or he has a reason, which opens up all sorts of possibilities.
- They felt that this is a good time in history to explore the hero-myth. Beowulf is essentially a story about a warrior that goes overseas to fight a righteous quest but soon finds himself embroiled in a tribal war.
- Tony Curran said that his favourite scene is the one where the young Grendel is holding his father's severed head. Berzins' favourite is the one where Tony's character destroys Grendel's father's skull, he looks up, and you can see doom descend on him. Gunnarsson's favourite is Skarsgård's disintegration at the end when he explains the cause of everything and that his kingdom has been destroyed by a meaningless act.
- Ingvar Sigurdsson's 4-year old son is in the film. The Q&A implied he played the young Grendel, although the IMDB appears to credit him as Grendel's son.