Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Last legion? Last gasp!

Last Legion movie posterColin Firth is no Clive Owen. He doesn't really cut it as a hard-bitten Roman veteran general.

I'm talking, of course, about the 2007 movie of The Last Legion, which the empress and I just watched on DVD. It is a rather curious mish-mash, richly deserving the verdict of The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: an "absurd sword'n'sandal Roman movie ... It's all very silly".

The movie makers have tried to tack a sub-Arthurian theme onto a Roman legion story. Imagine King Arthur meets Gladiator, but without the box office draw of either Clive Owen or Russell Crowe, and (more importantly) without the script-writing flair of David Franzoni. (The Butterworth brothers have a long way to go.) And, to make matters worse, not only have they seen fit to rewrite the minimal historical framework of the story. They have resurrected the long-suffering, long since destroyed, long gone Ninth Legion, our old favorite on this blog! (What is it with the movie-going public and the Ninth Legion, anyway?!)

So, what did they get right?

The movie opens in Rome. The year is AD 460. The young Romulus Augustus is sitting on a gigantic statue watching the arrival of Aurelius, commander of the Nova Invicta Legion. (The what now?)

I have not read Valerio Massimo Manfredi's novel, on which the movie is based, so I cannot tell if the mistakes are Manfredi's or the Butterworth brothers', but (1) the year should have been AD 475, (2) the setting should have been Ravenna, the capital of the shrinking western empire, and (3) the new young emperor (for it is he, sitting on the giant statue) was named Romulus Augustulus (as in "little Augustus").

In the movie (and I suppose I should announce a spoiler alert here), the Scots ... er, Goths (with Glaswegian accents) depose the young emperor and exile him to Capri, from where he is rescued by Aurelius and his merry band, and carted off to seek his fortune in Britain, along with his Welsh teacher Ambrosinus. (That should be "his teacher, who is Welsh", rather than "his Welsh teacher" ...)

As far as we know, in reality, the young man was exiled to a life of luxury in the Campanian villa once owned by Lucullus. And he never had a Welsh teacher who turned out to be a magician. But, for all I know, he may well have had a sword, inscribed with the curious phrase ensis caliburnus (sounds like a Harry Potter spell).

Much more entertaining than the movie is Colin Firth's official blog, where his ghost-writer effuses about legionnaires and mysterious Byzantine martial artists (and offers yet another date for the setting of the movie: 476 AD).


Of course, we don't watch movies to become educated. Even bad-tempered old emperors watch movies for entertainment. And, although the writing is very bad, and the plot is very muddled, I did warm to Colin Firth's twinkling charm.

But Clive Owen he isn't.


  1. Sounds like it might be entertainingly bad!

  2. I think I'll have to watch this one with some friends and a bottle of wine sometime - we'll watch Mr Darcy in anything and we enjoy a good laugh!

  3. it's really nice that they connect Ceasar to King arthur, nice movie 10/10 score for the makers.