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All Talk: Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, Wealtheow, and Grendel’s Mother



Robert Zemeckis’ film version of Beowulf changes the Old English epic poem in a number of significant ways. He collapses the action of the poem into a single narrative arc; he modifies the relationships among some of the chief characters, most notably in two ways: both Hrothgar and Beowulf are married to Wealtheow, the latter after Hrothgar commits suicide; and both men have affairs with Grendel’s mother, and father children with her, with the result that in Zemeckis’ version, Hrothgar is the father of Grendel, and Beowulf is the father of the dragon. The result is that the movie has as its central concerns marriage, infidelity, and family secrets, in which Wealtheow plays the role of the silent, angry wife, and Grendel’s mother the dangerous femme fatale who undermines domestic stability, rather than a fundamental conflict between good (represented by the heroic Beowulf) and evil (represented by Grendel, his mother, and the dragon).