North East-born actor Kieran Bew has landed the swashbuckling title role in ITV’s ambitious Beowulf adaptation.
Also heading for the region to star in the series are award-winning American actor William Hurt, famous for films including Body Heat, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Broadcast News, and Joanne Whalley who recently played Katherine of Aragon in the BBC’s Wolf Hall.
Kieran Bew, who is 34 and was born in Hartlepool, has appeared in a host of stage and TV productions but this is his biggest role.
On his Twitter site he greeted the ITV casting announcement with the single word “Hwaet” which is the first word of Beowulf, written in Old English.
Most recently Kieran played Duke Alphonso of Calabria in Da Vinci’s Demons, an historical fantasy drama shot in Wales for BBC Worldwide and American cable and satellite channel Starz.
He attended Hartlepool’s English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College before going on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
As a teenager he was a fencing champion, winning British under-16 and under-17 titles and competing throughout Europe. He also swam competitively and played basketball.
These skills have evidently served him well in his career as an actor. In 1999 he worked as fight choreographer on productions of Hamlet and Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
On television he has appeared in episodes of The Bletchley Circle, Whitechapel, Inspector George Gently, Silent Witness, The Bill and WPC 56.
Swordsmanship will come to the fore when he plays warrior hero Beowulf in ITV Studios’ “epic re-imagining” of the 3,182-line Anglo Saxon poem which was written some time between the 8th and 11th centuries.
William Hurt, who turns 65 later this month, is cast as King Hrothgar who, in the poem, created the great hall of Heorot for his people.
In the poem, Hrothgar’s noisy warriors arouse the anger of a monster called Grendel.
Grendel attacks Hrothgar and his people flee. Their plight reaches the ear of Beowulf who leaves his home in Geatland and goes to help.
Further battles ensue – with Grendel’s mother and with a dragon – in the Anglo Saxon equivalent of a fantasy epic.
Joanne Whalley, who has also played Christine Keeler and Jackie Kennedy on screen, has landed the part of Rheda.
Others to appear in the series are Ed Speleers, who has appeared in Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall, as Slean and David Ajala, who was in film The Dark Knight, as Rate.
Ian Puleston-Davies (Coronation Street), Ellora Torchia (Indian Summers), Gisli Orn Gardarsson (Spooks and Spirits), Susan Aderin (The Last Detective), Kirsty Oswald (Ripper Street), Laura Donnelly (Outlander), Edward Hogg (Indian Summers), Alex Price (Father Brown), Jack Rowan (Silent Witness) and Itoya Osagiede (Okoro: The Prelude) have also landed parts.
ITV Studios went on to describe their Beowulf as an “action-packed 13-part drama series” set in Shieldlands, “a place of spectacle and danger populated by both humans and fantastical creatures”.
It is being created by writer and executive producer James Dormer, who has previously worked on Strike Back, Wallander and Outcast, along with Tim Haines and Katie Newman, ITV Studios’ creative director of drama and executive director of drama respectively.
ITV Studios said of Beowulf: “Essentially a western set in the Dark Ages of Britain’s mythic past, the story unfolds on a huge canvas, filmed amongst the breathtaking beauty of England’s North East.”
They further described it as “a series about courage, greed, betrayal, revenge, loyalty, power, man versus wilderness and, of course, love” and added that it would include epic fights, thrilling chases, raids, celebrations and battles.
In January Durham County Council granted planning permission for the construction of a large set on the 12-hectare site of a former cement works and quarry at Eastgate, near Stanhope in Weardale.
The set includes a mead hall and about 20 houses with permission to film over a five-year period.
ITV Studios said: “The production’s choice to use the spectacular locations available in Durham and Northumberland has been encouraged by the enthusiastic support of the various councils of the North East.”
ITV director of drama Steve November said: “Beowulf is a series with a charismatic protagonist at its heart.
“Equally it’s a spirited and fascinating ensemble drama with each character taking their own emotional and sometimes perilous journey.
“We’re delighted to be commissioning Beowulf and to be working with Tim Haines and his production team.”
In the first episode of the ITV ‘re-imagining’, Beowulf, after spending many years wandering as a mercenary warrior, returns to Herot to pay his respects to the recently deceased Thane, Hrothgar, who brought him up.
When Herot is attacked by the terrifying Grendel, Beowulf has no choice but to hunt him down, thereby winning favour with Herot’s new female Thane and the wider community.
The Beowulf production has been welcomed in the North East as a fillip to the regional film and TV industry and to the regional economy as a whole.