The Last Legion (2007)
“Before King Arthur, there was Excalibur.”
Director: Doug Lefler
Cast: Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Synopsis: As the Roman empire crumbles, young Romulus Augustus flees the city and embarks on a perilous voyage to Britain to track down a legion of supporters.
It’s 460AD, and the Roman Empire is on its last legs. Scottish-accented barbarians are knocking at the gates, and treacherous Roman senators are negotiating a capitulation aimed at saving their necks. Unaware of all this, 12-year-old Romulus (played by Thomas Sangster who, at the age of 17. looks all of 12-years-old) is to be instated as the new Caesar. We first meet young Romulus standing atop a giant statue that overlooks the city of Rome. It’s quite an impressive spectacle, although the CGI effects of this British-made historical would-be epic, are for the most part fairly unimpressive. Romulus witnesses the arrival of Aurelius (Colin Firth, in one of cinema’s unlikeliest casting decisions) and sneaks into his tent to have a look at his sword. Swords have an important role to play in The Last Legion because this tale is somewhat tenuously associated — and needlessly, really — with the legend of King Arthur.
Anyway, Romulus nearly finds himself minus a hand when Aurelius mistakenly believes he’s a common street urchin attempting to steal his sword, so you can just imagine Aurelius’s discomfort when he discovers the boy is actually the new Caesar, whom he just so happens to have been tasked with protecting. Talk about embarrassing.
Sadly, Aurelius turns out to be a little bit pants at his assignment because Romulus is captured by invading Goths and exiled to the island of Capri with his teacher and mentor, Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley). Naturally, Aurelius sets off for Capri with a crew that includes an ambassador of the Roman’s allies from Constantinople who, beneath cloaks and mask turns out to be — gasp! — a wondrously beautiful Bollywood screen siren and former Miss World (Aishwarya Rai), who can kick any man’s butt in a fight.
It’s difficult not to be a little facetious when describing the plot of The Last Legion, even though it’s actually quite an enjoyable romp that harks back to Hollywood’s swashbuckling days of old. It certainly shares Hollywood’s complete disregard for historical accuracy if it should conflict with where it wants its story to go, but you could say that for the majority of movies centred around historical events.
The Last Legion was apparently released with virtually no publicity and was dismissed by the critics — if they even bothered to watch it — and it’s sort of understandable considering the budget and star power. Had The Last Legion been made with half the budget and a cast of second-string actors it would probably have been accepted as a reasonable — if unambitious — adventure movie. It’s certainly not a bad film, even though it seems a little uncertain of exactly what type of film it wants to be. Firth is undoubtedly miscast, but he still manages to avoid embarrassing himself, while the doe-eyed Sangster gives a decent performance. The film does falter badly in the final act, with a battle scene that’s poorly choreographed and unconvincing, but it should easily keep most young teens entertained.