Modern British Cult Cinema: Centurion
When the legendary Roman Ninth Legion are ambushed and their numbers decimated by the elusive Picts, Centurion Quintus Dias and a small band of Ninth Legion survivors must mount a rescue of their captured General Virilus and escape before the wrath of their enemy destroys them all.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, David Morrisey, Ulrich Thomsen, Lee Ross, Imogen Poots, Noel Clarke. Director: Neil Marshall. Writer: Neil Marshall.
Modern British Cult Cinema brings you another great movie from one of our favourite English Directors – Neil Marshall, best known for movies such as, Dog Soldiers, Doomsday and The Descent. Unlike his previous action/horror hybrid movies, this time Marshall tackles the ancient past with the Roman occupation of Britain in 117 AD, though his trademark of copious amounts of action,violence and gore are still in full effect.
Based upon the infamous tale of the disappearance of the Legendary Ninth Legion, 3000 elite Roman troops who mysteriously vanished whilst marching from York to Scotland in 117 AD. Though historians dispute what happened back then, Director Marshall gives us his own account of this classic story and one a hell of a great medieval period action movie. Shot in the UK, mainly in the highlands of Scotland and the English forests of Surrey and Hampshire, the movie is spectacular to behold, lavish sweeping shots of the amazingly beautiful but notoriously harsh Scottish highlands intercut with the more tranquil but still sumptuous English countryside, this movie is a feast for the eyes.
Talented actor Michael Fassbender plays Centurion Quintus Dias, lone survivor of a midnight raid on his Roman outpost by a Pict war band. Freed from his captors by General Virilus (Dominic West) and his Ninth Legion, Quintus joins them on their march into the Scottish wilds to capture or kill the leader of the Picts, Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). Recruiting a Pict scout Etain (Olga Kurylenko) to guide them through the severe Scottish highlands, the Ninth Legion begin their march into eventual ruination and defeat.
Neil Marshall brings us an epic and ambitious film replete with large scale battles and smaller, bloodier skirmishes. As with all of Marshall’s previous movies, he revels in showing us the ultimate outcome of violent actions, Centurion has it all, decapitation, impalement, throats are cut, arrows are embedded and one particular Legionary is interrupted by a spear whilst urinating, in a none too pleasant manner, such were the times though and Centurion captures the brutality of the era perfectly.
Shot on a relatively small budget (around £14,000,000), the movie has the genuine look of a film that cost at least three times as much, the size and complexity of the film is on a grand scale, from the aforementioned camera work, the decent actors and the wardrobe comprising literally hundreds of Roman and Pict costumes and various weaponry. The acting itself is outstanding, Fassbender is excellent as ever embracing his role of Centurion Dias, though for me the film is stolen by Olga Kurylenko’s Etain, she is a strong, disquieting, dangerous but also sad character and Olga manages to show all these sides even though she never utters a word throughout the movie because Etain herself is mute. Backing them up are great supporting roles by Dominic West as General Virilus and Erich Thomsen as Pict leader Gorlacon amongst many others.
The strange dichotomy of the film is that throughout you are rooting for Dias and the surviving legionary soldiers whilst they are hunted down by the Pict warriors, when in reality the Picts themselves were defending their land from the invading force that was the Roman army. Though Marshall does touch on this in a number of scenes, especially a sequence where Gorlacon tells captured General Dias of Etain’s tragic past due to Roman occupation, giving what was before a brutal enemy, some much needed pathos.
Very much a British answer to films such as Gladiator, but made on about one tenth that particular film’s budget, Centurion is an impressive tale. The first half of the film is an epic in every sense with its massive battle scenes and large armies, the second part is more intimate in it’s story as the Roman survivors are hunted down by their Pict pursuers, though the magnificent landscape keeps the movie looking grand in scale even during these moments. You don’t necessarily have to be into medieval or fantasy movies to enjoy Centurion as it is ultimately an action flick, just set during the Roman wars in medieval Britain, another fantastic movie by Neil Marshall and well worthy your time.
Precinct1313 rating: V Gladius Hispaniensis out of V.