Centurion (2010)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, David Morrissey, JJ Feild, Imogen Poot

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Michael Fassbender in Neil Marshall's Centurion

What has Neil Marshall got against the Scots? First he turns the Highlands into a werewolves' feeding ground in Dog Soldiers. Then he chucks Scot Shauna Macdonald into a cave full of cannibalistic gollums in The Descent. And then, in Doomsday, he plunges the whole country into quarantine, to be overrun by leatherclad Mad Max hooligans. And now he pits the legendary Ninth Legion against a hoard of warrior Picts (many of whom also happen to be leatherclad Mad Max hooligans, with woad) who slaughter them wholesale.

Lured into the wilds of Scotland by a clearly traitorous Pictish tracker called Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the Legion, led by General Virilus (Dominic West – Sean Pertwee must have been busy) are quickly set upon by the native hoards and utterly destroyed. All but a band of seven hardy survivors, that is, who, led by Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) must escape from behind the enemy lines to the relative safety of England.

Stripped of the pomp and paraphernalia of the highly organised Roman army, they are forced to adopt the tactics of the enemy, hiding in the undergrowth and attacking by stealth. But with Etain and her troupe of dreadlocked crusty killers on their trail, their chances of survival look pretty slim…

Olga Kurylenko as Etain in Centurion

As usual, Marshall creates a likeable band of bantering brothers we can (more or less) care about as they gradually get picked off one by one (oh come on, that's hardly a spoiler). But the portrayal of brave Romans versus murderous savages isn't entirely black and white: like the Americans in Afghanistan, another conquering force defeated by guerrilla warfare, the ruthless soldiers can be held partly responsible for the bloodthirsty vengeance that rains down upon them. And believe me it rains down, in some really quite exciting, gory battle sequences.

Sure, the over-saturated colours make the production look cheap, and as usual the geography of Scotland seems irredeemably screwed (when are directors going to realise that there are no snow-capped mountains in the Borders?). It's also something of a mad re-enactment fest, boasting costumes, sets and make up of dubious authenticity – it's good to know one can still get hold of eyeliner and conditioner in the wilds of the frozen North.

In the end, Centurion is not Dog Soldiers, but then Marshall did rather shoot himself in the foot by creating such a phenomenal movie so early on in his career. But hey, it beats Clash of the Titans hands down in the battle of, er, the battles. Picts and Romans one, Greek gods zero…

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