Friday, December 14, 2012

Alfred the Great - 1969 Film

Its very disappointing when one gets a chance to relive a cherished childhood memory, and it doesn't live up to one's recollections. That is the case for me with "Alfred the Great", a historical fiction film released back in 1969. I remember watching the film on TV with my father and grandfather, and being fascinated that the Viking Danes didn't have horns on their helmets, and that even though they were living in England, they practiced a religion very different from the one that I had been raised with. I was left with the memory in my mind, never getting a chance to view the movie again in the intervening decades, that the film was a portrayal of the Dark Ages more accurate than is usually committed to cellulose. Boy! Does it turn out that I was very mistaken.

After many years of searching, I finally got a chance to view a copy of this rare production, and now watching through adult eyes, and with a much greater knowledge of history and film-making, I was sorry to find out that "Alfred the Great" is probably rare for a multitude of reasons. The film only covers the early part of Alfred's reign, in a completely non-historic fashion; the portrayal of England's only monarch named "the Great" makes him out to be even more unlikable than the barbarians he struggles against; the battle scenes are completely laughable; and most of the dialogue is painful to listen too. The Danes chant like rabid soccer fans in almost every action, and are actually wearing UNIFORMS made of scale armor and black cloaks. There's not a shieldwall to be seen, and Alfred's "strategem" of a boar's head formation in the climatic battle is wildly inaccurate and ridiculous.

On the plus side, the actor's do a reasonable job with the thin material they had to work with, especially a young Michael York as the Danish warlord - he steals every scene that he appears in. (I just love the twinkle in his eyes when he says to Alfred's queen, "so, your God is a god of love? You should meet our love-god, Frey. Why, when maids see him, they can't help but to blush). Ian McKellan, of Gandalf fame, also makes his first film appearance, but I couldn't recognize him in his youthful appearance. The film deserves minor kudos for trying to portray the Dark Ages supposedly realistically as a grimy and violent world, but the complete lack of historical accuracy ruins this attempt. And, the worst sin of all, is that the film is just downright boring.

If you can't resist any movie with swords and barbarians in it, you might be interested anyway, but with all the movie's faults, I would otherwise suggest you just let this one stay in the vault it has been laying in.