Directed By: Neil Marshall
Written By: Neil Marshall
Michael Fassbender – Quintas Dias
Olga Kurylenko – Etain
Dominic West – Titus Flavius Virilus
Liam Cunningham – Ubriculius
David Morrissey – Bothos
J J Feild – Thax
Ulrich Thomsen – Gorlacon
Noel Clarke – Macros
Riz Ahmed – Tarak
Dimitri Leonidas – Leonidas
Imogen Poots – Arianne
Paul Freeman – Gnaeus Julius Agricola
Language: English and Gaelic Genre: Historical, Action-war; Thriller
Centurion is a 2010 British action thriller war movie set in Scotland during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Rome had already conquered England and Wales and was trying hard to bring Scotland under them. The film focuses on the Ninth Legion whose fate is still unknown or unclear, giving an alternative reading to the story.
Stories have circulated about the fate of the missing Ninth Legion. Some scholars believe it happened on the main continent of Europe while fighting off a warring tribe, others that it was the Jews who routed them. But most scholars feel it may have happened on the British Isles while fighting off the Picts. The Picts were the ancient inhabitants of Scotland and were called Picti (painted people) by the Romans because they painted their faces, especially before war.
The film is from the perspective of a Roman centurion Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) whose garrison was ambushed and destroyed by the Pictish warriors, leaving him the sole survivor. Dias is tortured for information by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) a Pictish leader because he spoke the Pictish language. He refuses to help them and escapes captivity seeking refuge with the Ninth Legion under General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West).
Governor Agricola (Paul Freeman) wants the Ninth Legion to take some decisive action against the Picts and asks Virilus to make use of the skills of Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a Celtic Brigantian who can lead them into Pictish territory. They, however, are ambushed by the Picts. The end result – Virilus is taken captive.
The seven survivors of the ambush – Dias, Ubriculius (Liam Cunningham), Bothos (David Morrissey), Thax (J J Feild), Macros (Noel Clarke), Tarak (Riz Ahmed) and Leonidas (Dimitri Leonidas) decide to sneak into the Pictish village and rescue Virilus. What adds a trying measure of responsibility and guilt on Dias is the promise that Virilus demands of him. It is this journey, of fulfilling the promise and reaching to safety, fraught with danger and sure death that dominates the rest of film.
The film shows how the ruling faction – the Romans, is reduced to being the chased and the hunted. They are shown slowly descending into unethical behaviour just to survive, breaking whatever codes of honour they were expected to follow. Yet Dias does emerge as a throwback figure to the old order of chivalry, the ‘I give you my word’ kind of honour.
Etain on the other hand, comes across as a formidable opponent – a tracker and a hunter, she inspires fear yet plays an ambiguous role in the narrative making her a character you also sympathise with.
The Picts too have their flaws. It is in the character of Arianne (Imogen Poots) that it becomes most apparent. She is branded as a witch by Gorlacon, scarred and then made an outcast.
The film does not present one side as villains and another as the heroes but tries to present both sides as violent and sometimes, justified.
The engaging aspect of the movie is that the Picts are not projected as this barbaric tribe but given a voice to express their struggle against the foreign invaders – which is an alternative view to Roman Britain. The general opinion projected about the Roman Empire in Britain has always been about pride in its still existing symbols like the holiday spot Bath for instance. This then highlights the resentment that probably still exists in Britain about the subjugation by the Romans.
There is much violence and gore in the film – torture scenes, decapitated heads but the spurts of blood seem more video game-like and hence not very realistic. Nevertheless, the violence is a little startling.
Centurion may have taken liberties with actual history, presenting characters that may have not actually been there during the time period of the story (Agricola). Also it may have not given much of a curve to the characters but it does seem realistic as opposed to The Last Legion which fused the Arthurian legend into the fate of the Ninth Legion making it supernatural and a tad bit unbelievable.