Last Legion's all-star romp

The Last Legion Starring: Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai, John Hannah, Thomas Sangster, Peter Mullan, Kevin McKidd; Dir: Doug Lefler; Cert: 12A; 1hr 42mDespite its pretensions to be a modern-day Gladiator and its all-star cast, The Last Legion is really quite an old fashioned movie.

Andrew Clarke

The Last Legion Starring: Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai, John Hannah, Thomas Sangster, Peter Mullan, Kevin McKidd; Dir: Doug Lefler; Cert: 12A; 1hr 42m

Despite its pretensions to be a modern-day Gladiator and its all-star cast, The Last Legion is really quite an old fashioned movie. Watching it brings to mind rainy Sunday afternoons with Christopher Plummer in a toga busily seducing Sophia Loren while John Gielgud (also in a toga) warns about the invading Huns approaching Rome. You get the picture.

The Last Legion is a child friendly exploration of the last days of Rome. It looks and feels like a cross between The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Jason and the Argonauts and King Arthur.


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Like the latter film The Last Legion incorporates into its storyline the idea that the legends of King Arthur, Merlin and the sword in the stone all emanate from the last days of the Roman occupation in Britain.

Thomas Sangster - the love-struck youngster from Love Actually - plays Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor. He is a young boy guided by his teacher, a mysterious Welsh druid called Ambrosinus (Kingsley), and a kindly senator Nestor (John Hannah).

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Rome has worked its way through five Emperors in five years and in order to prevent Romulus Augustus being assassinated Rome's leading general Aurelius (Firth) is recalled to command the Imperial bodyguard. However, the Huns are not in the mood to be placated by Rome's double-talk and empty promises any longer and decide to take matters into their own and invade Rome with the aim of killing the young Emperor and seizing control of not only the city but the Empire as well.

Aurelius with the help of an exotic female warrior Mira (Aishwarya Rai) from the Turkish Empire journey to Capri to free the young Emperor and they all travel to Britain to make contact with Rome's 9th Legion - the titular Last Legion - who have been left guarding Hadrian's Wall.

The history is probably a little shaky, the dialogue is rather stiff and the budget is not quite on the Gladiator scale but The Last Legion has a lot of charm if you approach it expecting nothing more than a sword and sandals nostalgia-fest then you won't be disappointed.

Colin Firth is suitably upright as the heroic Roman bodyguard and John Hannah is wonderfully duplicitous as the canny senator but it is Aishwarya Rai as the gorgeous, sword-wielding Eastern warrior who makes the biggest impression and forces everyone to really raise their game - particular when it comes to the action sequences.

She brings some much needed spark to a film which Firth, in particular, treats with unnecessary solemnity. Kingsley enjoys his role as the wise wizard and plays the part with a twinkle in his eye and an outrageous Welsh accent.

Director Doug Lefler provides a capable but uninspired eye behind the camera. His staging of scenes betrays his TV background. Lots of fast-paced cutting to disguise the lack of budget, no lingering shots or fancy camera moves - just a wide establishing shot which can be intercut with some medium cutaways and a couple of close-ups.

Having said that with some more inspired dialogue this basic direction would be enough but as it is you need something more to lift the occasional solemn soliloquies provided by Firth and co. The action sequences are very well-staged, as you would expect from a director who guided Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess through their small screen adventures.

The cast bring enough good-natured gusto to overcome the budget constraints and the shortcomings of the script. It's a great romp and if taken in that spirit it's a wonderful crowd-pleaser without being a classic movie.

***

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