Film Review: Alfred the Great (1969)


03/09/2012 by noonobservation

This year I took part in Ian Dawson’s interactive history seminar at the SHP conference which I was attending for work. I took the part of the 14th century. As I stood there wearing a pointy princess hat and stroking a stuffed rat, I was suddenly put in mind of a film I had once seen…

IMDb later informed me that the film was Alfred the Great (1969), starring David Hemmings and Michael York, but to my grief, it had never been rereleased on dvd. Undeterred, I eventually found a website prepared to supply me with this rare delicacy, albeit at a premium price. You have to cough up if you want the good shit.

One week and £16 (ouch) later, my dvd arrived. It is not beautiful?

I especially like the use of the Alfred the Great statue in Wantage on the front cover, and the extremely large font size designed for the old and the blind.

Before convening my star chamber of film justices, I thought I better check that the dvd actually worked, which was lucky because the film, on first try, appeared as if viewed through the visor of a jousting helm. After dusting off my scart leads and cathode ray tube, I eventually achieved a surprisingly good picture.

The convocation met of a Friday evening, and equipped with a Nepalese take-away, sat in solemn judgement.

The film begins with an excellent font.

Plot Summary

Michael York invades Wessex with 25 unconvincing Vikings.

Fearing his own Unchristian Passions for sex and violence, Alfred yearns to to be a simple priest, not a warrior.

This is No Good At All as his brother Aethelred (not the Unready) is a rubbish king. Knowing himself to be rubbish, the king tricks Alfred out of the priesthood using the foxy and easily impressed Aelhswith of Mercia, and then conveniently expires on their wedding day, forcing Alfred to take the crown.

Annoyed that his dreams of bookish poverty have been thwarted, Alfred indulges in his Unchristian Passions for sex and violence, with the result that Aelhswith runs off with Michael York and everyone else refuses to fight for such a total dork.

Is it secret? Is it safe?

There follows a lengthy training montage in which Alfred hides in the marshes while Gandulf (played by Ian MacKellan) teaches him to be less of a dork and employ his Unchristian Passions in useful, patriotic ways.

Meanwhile, Aelhswith eventually decides that even though Alfred is still a dork, he’s better than a nun-raping, human-sacrificing pagan, and is promptly rescued.

Alfred gets his shit together, unites the people and defeats the Vikings. Big Star Wars ending:

The cast line up to receive their medals from Princess Leia.

Best bits

1. Alfred’s AMAZING wooing techniques. He starts his courtship by reading Aelhswith some Latin pornography, then complains about her poor literacy and calls her “just a pair of tits” that “make my guts ache.” The next day he gets his dog to chase her down and savage her, and the deal is sealed.

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Guthrun?

2. The most ambitious troop manoeuvring you’re ever likely to see. I think the choreographers had taken some of the campaign maps too literally.

3. When Alfred goes bonkers after the Battle of Chippenham. DUN-dah-dah-DUN-dah-dah-DAH! DUN-dah-dah-DUN-dah-dah-DAH!

“I have your fox now.”

4. Sexy Michael York un-foxing Alfred at a game of Fox Chess (or whatever it is), when what he’s really doing is stealing his missus. Doesn’t he have lovely glossy hair – probably due to the high-protein Viking diet of sacrificed sheep and monk’s blood.

Worst bits

1. Vikings that look and behave like extras from David Lynch’s Dune. Shrdlu here likes to wash his hair in blood and spends his Saturdays playing bass in a Norwegian black metal band. He also has impressive circus skills including somersaulting over shield walls, and juggling up to five Christian heads.

“Have you seen my handbag? It’s got a baby in it.”

2. Though most of the costumes fall within the usual boundaries of 1960s-historical-awful, there are the occasional disasters, like this dress clearly borrowed from the set next door where they were shooting The Importance of Being Ernest. David Hemmings is also squeezed into several unbecoming pairs of tight red leggings.

3. The main problem with this film however, is that NO CAKES ARE BURNED whatsoever. This leaves the audience confused and disoriented, wondering whether they’ve put the right dvd in.


My review: A splendid film! I laughed, I cried (not always in the appropriate places). David Hemmings was excellent, walking the fine line between repulsive rapist dork and Good Christian King like a prima ballerina. It’s actually very well shot and has some great supporting actors, including Christopher Timothy from All Creatures Great and Small! Excellent use of fonts throughout. Shame about the cakes.

Mr Bell’s review: It was better than The Lion in Winter.

Miss T’s review: Drank a bottle of wine, then fell asleep.

Overall: 7/10. A good-to-middling score.

5 thoughts on “Film Review: Alfred the Great (1969)

  1. Nick says:


    Very interesting… ‘cept that the statue on the DVD box is not the Wantage one but the Winchester one.

    Cheers, and have a nice jig at the Newbury Show!


  2. Mike says:

    The cakes aren’t mentioned because that isn’t part of the actual historical events, and was added to the story at a later date. You could have written a good review but partook in sarcasm, self congratulation and smugness in regard to your own ‘cleverness’. Still, I don’t suppose this site is set up for serious reviews, but one that caters for sarcastic, micky-taking ‘wit’ – the lowest form of the genre by the way. The significance of Alfred the Great and the part he played in shaping our history is no doubt lost on those who partake in such cretinous imbecility. Will we get something similar in its sarcasm in regard to the Holocaust? No, of course not, because those who write such bullshit are selective in picking their targets for their sarcasm – i.e. they’re hypocrites and cowards to boot. Go on, throw your sarcastic brickbats, it’ll make no difference to me as I won’t be back to read them.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and constructive feedback Mike. I am sorry to hear that you feel the film Alfred the Great is not a fit subject for humour. Perhaps if you are after historical material on Alfred the Great, you could try the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (I hear the Worcester manuscript is particularly good), or if your Old English is as bad as mine, you might try Wikipedia.
      Scant, but entirely factual, material on the film can be found on IMDb.
      I am well aware of the part Alfred played in the formation of England as a political entity, but since my blog post was about the film of Alfred the Great and not about the historical figure, there was no opportunity to go into this. If you would like to write about Alfred’s historical significance, I would be happy to feature you as a guest blogger – please do get in touch. I’m afraid I don’t allow words on my blog that are more offensive than “shit” or “dick-bag”, though (this is why I’ve deleted the last part of your comment), so you might have to rein in your colourful Saxon tongue.

  3. Angie says:

    I do believe that Godwin’s Law has been invoked here.
    Superb riposte Noono.

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