The Last Legion

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The Last Legion
Review (8/10)
(By Betty Jo Tucker)

What a treat to see a movie made without jerky and pretentious camera work! “The Last Legion” is such a film. It’s also a wonderful adventure/fantasy with great characters portrayed by actors who know how to grab our attention. Colin Firth, Sir Ben Kingsley, Kevin McKidd, Aishwarya Rai, and Thomas Sangster are all perfectly cast in this tale about a young boy who becomes a Roman Emperor, then flees for his life as Rome falls to traitors and conquering forces.

When we first see 12-year-old Romulus (Sangster), he’s standing on the shoulder of a massive marble statue while watching legionnaire Aurelius (Firth) return from battle. After scrambling down from his perch, he sneaks inside Aurelius’ tent for a look at the man’s sword. Aurelius thinks the lad must be a street urchin, so he threatens Romulus with dismemberment if he catches him misbehaving again. “I just wanted to look at it,” Romulus insists. This scene gives viewers a hint at how important a sword will become to Romulus later in the movie.

Imagine Aurelius’ surprise when he sees Romulus being crowned Emperor! And he’s in for even more surprises. He’s appointed as Romulus’ security guard, which soon becomes more than Aurelius expected, for the boy’s parents are murdered and the new Emperor must hide out in Britannia -- where the remaining Roman legion is stationed. Traveling with Aurelius and Romulus are the surviving members of his legion plus a sorcerer named Ambrosinus (Kingsley) and Mira (Rai), a mysterious warrior from Constantinople. Unfortunately, the Roman soldiers already in Britannia face problems of their own, and a disgruntled villain (McKidd) will stop at nothing in his efforts to kill Romulus. It’s up to the cagey Ambrosinus to help Romulus find a very special sword and to lay the groundwork for the King Arthur legend we all know and love so well.

Director Doug Lefler moves “The Last Legion” along with a spirited pace similar to his fine work on the marvelous “Xena: Warrior Princess” television series. Battles and other action scenes come across as quite exciting, and the performances certainly deserve kudos.

Before seeing “The Last Legion,” if anyone told me Colin Firth (“What a Girl Wants”) would be convincing in this kind of movie, my response would have been “Are you kidding?” But he’s splendid here, in his usual understated way (except in one surprisingly rousing “Henry V” type speech). Firth excels at projecting Aurelius’ increasing concern about the youngster in his care. And I’m happy to report that the King of Romantic Comedy shares some tender moments with the Queen of Bollywood (Rai) as their characters develop feelings going far beyond admiration for each other’s fighting skills. Rai (“Bride and Prejudice”) gives a dazzling interpretation of a gung-ho female warrior. Simply stunning, she manages to show off all the right moves.

Three other actors, Sangster, McKidd and Kingsley, also make the most of their roles in this outstanding film. In his appealing portrayal of the boy who would be Emperor, Sangster (“Tristan & Isolde”) combines vulnerability, curiosity and daring. McKidd, who played one of the main characters in HBO’s “Rome” miniseries, brings the villain to life with vicious gusto, and Kingsley (“House of Sand and Fog”) finds just the right mix of whimsy and wisdom for his magical character -- who almost steals the show.

Finally, about that special sword. If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s called Excaliber.

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