Alfred the Great
Directed byClive Donner
Written byJames R. Webb
Ken Taylor
Produced byBernard Smith
StarringDavid Hemmings
Michael York
Prunella Ransome
Colin Blakely
Ian McKellen
Peter Vaughan
Alan Dobie
Julian Glover
Vivien Merchant
CinematographyAlex Thomson
Edited byFergus McDonell
Music byRaymond Leppard
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 14 July 1969 (1969-07-14)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$197,788 (US)[2]

Alfred the Great is a 1969 British epic film which portrays Alfred the Great's struggle to defend the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex from a Danish Viking invasion in the 9th century. David Hemmings starred in the title role.


When the Vikings invade England, Alfred (David Hemmings) is about to take his priesthood vows. However, his brother, King Æthelred of Wessex (Alan Dobie), summons him to his aid and Alfred leaves for battle, where he appears to be a great tactician. Æthelred dies shortly after Alfred marries the Mercian princess Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome). Torn between following intellect or passion, Alfred at first refuses to succeed Æthelred and consummate his marriage, but is forced to accept kingship after the Danes attack again.

Realising the weak position of Wessex, Alfred goes into negotiations with Guthrum (Michael York), the Danish Viking leader of the Kingdom of East Anglia. Aelhswith on the other hand agrees to become Guthrum's hostage and they start to develop feelings for each other.

Alfred has difficulty acting like a king, calling for obedience and egalitarianism in the Medieval society of three estates, which the fighting nobility does not appreciate. The cleric Asser (Colin Blakely) warns him that he is too proud and, later, the Danes defeat Alfred. The latter is forced to retreat to the fens of Somerset. Roger's bandits, who take Alfred in, are more loyal to Alfred than his noblemen.

The nobles, however, drop their regicide plans and support Alfred in the climactic Battle of Athelney. Roger (Ian McKellen) sees that Alfred will need help and as the battle rages he arrives with monks, old men and peasant women, armed with clubs and pitchforks. Alfred defeats Guthrum, knocking him out, but decides to spare his life and forgives Aelhswith.[3]




Producer Bernie Smith says he became interested in Alfred the Great after reading about him in Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples.[4]

The film was announced in March 1964 as A King Is Born.[citation needed] It was "suggested" by a novel by Eleanor Shipley Duckett from a script by James R. Webb, who had written How the West Was Won for Smith. Filming was to take place in Ireland,[5] with MGM financing.[6] However, it took a number of years for the film to be made. Peter O'Toole was mentioned as a possible lead.[citation needed] In February 1967, the lead role was given to David Hemmings, who had appeared in MGM's Blowup.[7]

Smith said he "wanted a director who had never done a historical. That way I knew we could minimise cliches and the possibility of someone simply repeating, imitating what went before."[4] Clive Donner, then best known for What's New Pussycat?, was hired in September 1967, and Michael Killanin became associate producer.[8][9] Donner said he wanted to make the film "because of the inherent youth problem which is so close to our so-called youth revolt; turning the destructiveness of youth into constructiveness. Like so many students today, he [Alfred] advocated peace, but at the same time proclaimed violence in order to redo the world."[1]


The film was shot in County Galway, Ireland, including locations such as Castle Hackett in Tuam,[10] Kilchreest, Ross Lake, and Cnoc Meadha.[8]

Many resources went into replicating the 9th century AD, turning parts of County Galway into Wessex. This included a 200-foot-long hill figure of a white horse near Cnoc Meadha, representing the Uffington White Horse in Berkshire. Members of the Irish military served as extras during the battle scenes filmed in Counties Galway and Westmeath.[8]

Mary J. Murphy discussed the film's production and reasons for its flopping in the 2008 book Viking Summer, the filming of Alfred the Great in Galway in 1968.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Reisfeld, Bert (6 September 1968). "Pageant of 'Alfred' Unfolds in Ireland". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. e16.
  2. ^ "U.S. Films' Share-of-Market Profile", Variety, 12 May 1971 p 179
  3. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (2011). ""To be, or not to be" — King: Clive Donner's Alfred the Great (1969)". In Kevin J. Harty (ed.). The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages. McFarland. pp. 39–45. ISBN 978-0-7864-8638-0.
  4. ^ a b Knapp, Dan (22 June 1969). "Authenticity Goal of 'Alfred' Director: An Authentic 'Alfred'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. g20.
  5. ^ Randall Will Tangle With Fluffy, a Lion: Agnes Moorehead to Hush; Woes of Polyglot Movies, Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 25 March 1964: D11.
  6. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Paula Prentiss Lands Big Film Role, Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Tribune 16 March 1964: b3.
  7. ^ Hemmings to Play Alfred Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 23 February 1967: a13.
  8. ^ a b c d "The making of Alfred The Great". Galway Advertiser. 27 November 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  9. ^ Kennedy, Borgnine Signed Los Angeles Times 14 Sep 1967: d17.
  10. ^ "Alfred the Great at Kilchreest". The Irish Times. Dublin. 26 October 1968. p. 10.