It's about 470 A.D., during the final age of Rome, for the tale of The Last Legion (2007). A magic sword passed through the lineage of Caesar has lain hidden for many years.
Ben Kingsley plays a Merlinesque figure who wanders into a Roman camp. His name is Ambrosinus, & anyone deeply familiar with the Arthur legend knows that one of the names of Merlin is very similar, Ambrosius.
Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster) is a bold child of Orestes (Iain Glen), a Ceasar, & Ambrosinus is his teacher. The boy has gone exploring away from the protection of his father's household, & nearly comes to grief, until Ambrosinus steps in & proves that being an old man doesn't mean he's weak.
In five years there have been five Caesars, all murdered one after another, & the boy already has cause to worry over his fate. When he is crowned the new Caesar, he wonders, "What am I to be? A God or a boy?"
The Goths are allies, but troubling ones. When Romulus becomes Ceasar, his father sends Ambrosinus away, & Aurelius (Colin Firth) is made the boy-emperior's protector.
Soon the Goths betray Rome & the young Emperor is at risk. His parents are killed, & the boy captured by Odoacer (Peter Mullen), the leader of the Goths.
It's all quite amazingly staged, & rather convincing as filmic tales of sword & sorcery go. The boy & Ambrosinus are to be imprisoned on Capri. Aurelius & his band seek to liberate the boy emperor, assisted by the veiled assassin of Constantinople, Mira (Aishwarya Rai).
Mira is a phenomenal woman warrior character, a fine scimitar fighter, given plenty of action. She alone is worth entry into this film.
Continuing the Arthurian parallels, the magic sword is a direct "Sword in the Stone" borrowing, & the sword he reclaims on Capri is called Caliburnus, a well known name of Excaliber.
Liberated from Capri, it remains to discover the Ninth Legion in Brittania, at Hadrian's Wall, the last outpost of the Roman Empire. Our little band escapes across the channel, but will be pursued relentlessly by the Goth villain.
When they arrive on the White Isle, they find the countryside harrassed by the warlord Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum). And they can find nothing left of the Legion, but only the Wall.
It is now that it becomes obvious why the story has been borrowing so heavily from Arthurian lore, as we're to believe all things Arthurian are of Roman origin, the Celts being insignificant to to Celtic history & myth.
Some of the Legionaires do survive. They've gone native, & live as Celts. It is for the young Emperor to inspire their rising against the local warlord as well as the vicious Goths. They will never return to restore Rome, for Brittania will become a great nation in time, due to these Romans.
This is a small film, though addressing sweeping epic themes. The love story between the swordswoman & Aurelius is trite but acceptible. Ambrosinus as the "sorcerer" who only uses tricks is cool enough.
Fight choreography is superb if a little bloodless. The boy emperor lends it the feel of a children's movie, but his face is so expressive he's fine in the role. In all, good viewing for the adults of the family too.
The notion that a native ruler is evil but a ragtag remnant of Roman legionaires are true defenders of freedom is amazing bullshit, however. That Pendragon is the last of the Caesars, whose predestined son will be King Arthur, extends the idea that Romans are good, native Brits are bad. The explanation for this chauvinism in favor of Rome is the fact that the film was produced by Dino de Laurenties, & the story itself is Italian in origin.
The script was been based on La Ultima Legion (2003), a novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, available in English editions from Macmillan, Pan, & Washington Square books. Manfredi is an Italian historian who for his fiction gloms onto any excuse to make all things throughout the world racially connected to his nation, even the national epics of other countries that kicked Roman ass. It definitely makes The Last Legion feel like it should've been in Italian & shown mainly in Italy, & occasionally comes off as bizarre to have it actually filmed for English speakers.
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