By Dave Woodhall.
I suppose every ‘colonial army versus noble savages’ film will be looked at closely for hidden meanings but there isn’t all that much analogy here.
The story’s pretty basic; Dad leads Roman legion to humiliating defeat against barbaric Scots – or Geordies, there’s not much difference – son (Channing Tatum) returns twenty years later to avenge dad’s death. He has to overcome the contempt of legionnaires who see him as a bad omen, which he manages, gaining a respect-gaining wound in the process that forces him to be invalided out of the army. This leads indirectly to our hero acquiring a slave and all sorts of homo-erotic undertones (that there’s no female lead to get in the way of the all-boys-together action adds to the lack of subtlety in this particular sub-plot). The slavish Jamie Bell is the best thing about the film, adding depth to the role as he tried to reconcile loyalty to his new master with his British background.
As with all historical dramas, you can pick faults with much of the film. A lot of the Romans’ language seemed surprisingly modern, and I’m sure a student of the period would have found plenty of inaccuracies. Indeed, there’s no conclusive proof that the Ninth Legion met its end in Britain at all. Filming took place in Scotland and Hungary, which means the action can seem disjointed, and these Scots appear to have had a surprisingly large influence on the dress and weapons of the Native Americans 3,000 miles away and 1,600 years later. They did speak sub-titled Gaelic, though, so full marks for accuracy there even if the Romans had American accents. However, the shaky camerawork that seems to be gaining in popularity when filming battle scenes may be a cinematic trick aimed at increased authenticity, but it gives me a headache and I wish it would end.
Not a bad way of spending a couple of hours provided you’re not too fussed about accuracy or depth. This is a film about regaining family honour and that’s all it is. There were no foppish English aristocrats or brave yet peace-loving Celtic warriors fighting to protect their home and family, which is always a blessing when Hollywood casts its eye over here. The cast do a credible job with a script that seems at times to come from Roman Epic Clichés Inc and the ending won’t be a surprise.