Movies: Centurion * *
(15A, general release)
I'll go a long way down the road with any film involving Romans: I'm a sucker for corrupt senators, mad emperors, palace intrigue and doomed legions. Neil Marshall's Centurion certainly boasts a doomed legion, but it is set far from Rome and the centre of imperial power, in the wilds of Scotland. Based on a legend surrounding the fate of the Ninth Legion, Centurion is set in AD 117, during the reign of Hadrian.
Michael Fassbender is Quintus Dias, a Centurion in the Roman Army who has a terrible time of it after being captured by Picts in the Scottish borders.
Quintus escapes and is rescued by the Ninth Legion, which is marching north in high spirits to teach those Picts a lesson. Under the leadership of their charismatic general, Virilus (Dominic West), they fancy themselves against any enemy, but the Picts' clever guerrilla tactics will soon threaten the heavily armed and slow-moving legion.
After a bit of perfunctory scene-setting, Marshall's film turns into an exceedingly gory adventure romp, as furious, blue-faced natives chase the pride of Rome across open country.
Olga Kurylenko looks very fetching as a vengeful Pict warrior; but as the Romans long ago cut her tongue out, she has little to add to the proceedings in terms of witty asides.
And, in fact, with the exception of Dominic West, who has the good sense to ham it up and enjoy himself, Centurion's cast look lost among the handsomely photographed backdrops in a film that tells us precisely nothing about the Romans or their brightly painted enemies.