“One edge to defend, one to defeat. In Britannia was i forged to fit the hand of he who is destined to rule” ~Romulus
Oh Mr. Darcy…I know you need to pay your bills but this? Well…there were surely better ways….Colin Firth dons Roman gear, hoists a sword and tries to save a bad movie.
I started to review this for our Ancient History site, History of the Ancient World, but half way through, this movie morphed into a medieval Arthurian Legend so you’re getting a two-for-one deal here: Late Roman and Medieval all wrapped into one big, bad mess of a film. Think The Sword and the Stone meets the Fall of the Roman Empire.
The year is 460 A.D. A sword of great power was once forged for Julius Caesar and was passed down until it reached the last of Caesar’s noble line, Tiberius. When Tiberius died, the sword was hidden to keep it from the hands of evil men. The druid Ambrosinus (played by Ben Kingsley dressed as Gandalf the White), is a Keeper of the Sword and has made it his life’s work to find the one righteous enough to wield it. He journeyed to Rome and found the young child Caesar, Romulus.
Aurelius Caius Antonius played by the brilliant Mr. Darcy…whoops, I meant Colin Firth… is set to protect the young Caesar after his old schoolmaster Ambrosinus is sent away by his father Orestes, played by Game of Thrones actor Iain Glenn (Ser Jorah Mormont). The Romans attacked by the Goths in a night raid. Romulus loses his parents in the attack and is captured and brought before Odoacer. He is about to be murdered but Ambrosinus steps in and saves him.
“A city may be won by blood. It takes a man of vision to rule” ~ Ambrosinus
They are exiled to Capri under the watchful eye of Odoacer’s commanding officer, Wulfia, played by Kevin McKidd. McKidd’s no newbie when it comes to Roman period screen time since he played Lucius Vorenus in the historical drama series, Rome. Wulfia takes them to the very place Tiberius built to hide the sword. Romulus finds the sword under a mosaic of Caesar, fighting ensues, they escape and head north to find the lost Ninth Legion. Aurelius meets a beautiful warrior woman named Mira, played by Bollywood royalty, Aishwara Rai Bachchan. The love story plays out in typical period action movie style: strong man meets warrior woman, underestimates her, they fight a few sexy fights with a lot of flirtatious insinuations dropped throughout and eventually sleep together and fight evil side by side. Cue massive eye roll.
The story line gets more convoluted from there.
After a blatant Lord of the Rings rip off scene of the group crossing the Alps, Aurelius and his rag-tag band of Romans, an Indian warrior, and child-emperor end up in desolate Britannia. The sword was forged in Britannia and this is where Ambrosinus’ story line really takes off. They encounter the evil Vortgyn, who’s running around in a V for Vendetta Halloween mask, acting evil and intimidating but looking rather ridiculous in the process. Vortgyn is the man who gave Ambrosinus his nasty pentacle scar. He’s also a nod to the Arthurian legend’s Vortigern, a fifth century warlord whose existence is a messy mixture of fact and fiction. They find the Ninth Legion, but they’re all farmers now after Rome abandoned them, because that’s what you do when you’re bored, legendary Roman soldiers, you throw up your arms and start planting tomatoes. Bad guy Vortgyn slaughters some of the Legion’s family because he wants the sword and revenge on Ambrosinus, a big battle ensues with the odds against them and then magically, the Roman Ninth appears to save the day. Vortgyn and Ambrosinus square off, Ambrosinus wins, the tide of battle is turned and Aurelius gets the girl. Romulus chucks the sword and it lands firmly in a stone while Ambrosinus gives us a bit of a “history” lesson and a reveal about his real identity. Years later, the sword’s inscription is covered by moss leaving only the words” ESCALIBVR. Arthurian legend here we come…
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly…
What’s good? Colin Firth. Well, as good as he can be in a bad movie. He can’t save it, but he’s always enjoyable to watch. The only parts I found awkward to watch were his interactions with Rai. There was no believable chemistry between the two whatsoever. It was dreadful and stilted even at the best of times.
There are many well known actors in this show. In fact, quite a few of the cast from Game of Thrones make appearances in this film. Vatrenus, one of Aurelius’s men is actor Owen Teale who plays Alliser Thorne on Game of Thrones. Nonso Anozie who plays another one of Aurelius’ men, Batiatius is perhaps better known as Xaro Xhoan Daxos. You may recognise Anozie from NBC’s Dracula in the part of Dracula’s right hand man, Renfield. Robert Pugh, who plays the Ninth Legion leader Kustennin is the evil Craster in Game of Thrones, James Cosmo who plays a Barbarian named Hrothgar here, plays Throne’s Jeor Mormont and Romulus played by Thomas Sangster is recognisable as Jojen Reed. Fans of Spartacus will also be pleased to see John Hannah (played Quintus) back in a toga and sandals as the senator Nestor but he doesn’t get much time onscreen.
Sadly, being packed full of great actors and rising stars still didn’t save this movie. Ben Kingsley, who is normally a tour de force onscreen is miscast as Ambrosinus. He tries but he just doesn’t command the role of a mentor the way he did in The Physician. He comes across as a silly druid who doesn’t evoke much in terms of wizardry.
The movie lumbers through some awkward dialogue and bad plot and can’t avoid being painfully predictable. This is one of those instances where no matter how many famous names you add to the roster, you still end up with a terrible movie. If you’re looking for historically accurate – you can stop right there. There is nothing remotely accurate about this film from “go”. It’ very loosely based on an Italian novel of the same name and even then, the movie diverts massively from the text. The Roman “history” is a joke, and the costumes and weaponry are way, way off for the period. It’s more like a Halloween version of Roman than anything historical, not to mention the Ninth Legion nonsense that is dated about three hundred years too late. This is a fantasy movie that take snippets of history to pad the plot line and nothing more. While it’s certainly not the worst movie I’ve endured in the last while, it’s certainly up there. If you’re a fan of Firth, go ahead and watch this debacle, but otherwise, there are much better fantasy and period movies out there.