Ineptly directed, based on a desperately silly story, and featuring some of the worst performances in epic film history, 'The Last Legion' is quite simply an awful film.
The events of the story are set during the collapse of the Roman Empire to be precise. The barbarians are at the gates, inside of which are the child emperor Romulus Augustus (Sangster), his bodyguard Aurelius (Firth) and Augustus' mentor Ambrosinus (Kingsley). All the clichés are present: 'I am Aurelius, long Roman name-ius, long Roman name-ius, commander of the armies of X', Colin Firth tells us in a direct lift from 'Gladiator'. And then there's plenty of silly intrigue of the Toga-wearing, striding around variety.
The dates, historical accuracy and detail are not, needless to say, what this film is about but even so there is a lack of internal consistency that is irritating. For example, while it is acceptable to relocate the story to Rome - notwithstanding that the events depicted actually took place in Ravenna, in the north of Italy - why did the makers consider it acceptable to make the city a large metropolis in one (cheap looking CGI-generated) shot, but an apparently small fortress in another?
In any case, both the CGI-Rome and the cheaper version are overrun by cartoonish barbarians. Led by Odoacer (Mullan), they hang around the Roman palace in predictably oafish, temperamental and violent mode. The young emperor Romulus, meanwhile, has been captured and imprisoned (in a medieval castle, but let's not go there). But help, and a love interest for Aurelius, is at hand in the shape Mira (Rai); the amazing I-can't-believe-she's-a-woman from the East.
There ensues a quite comical sequence in which a series of tremendously unlikely events result in Romulus being sprung from the slammer. Imagine 'Mission Impossible' set in late antiquity and shot in the style of a 'Carry On' film.
So we have the emperor back. But now what? To Britannia! (Hurrah! It's the source of half our funding! And also we might find a magical sword, and locate that pesky last legion while were at it). Cue lots more unlikely nonsense involving a villain even more comical then the first barbarians and some vaguely Robin Hood-ish carry on somewhere near Scotland. And what's wrong with that, you might ask? Indeed it may sound like it could be good, clean fun. But it isn't.
There are the performances. Colin Firth is a good actor but in the Russell Crowe/Mel Gibson action hero role he is ridiculously miscast. To be fair, he does have the good grace to look faintly embarrassed at times. But if Firth is risible as a skirt-wearing sword swinger, Kingsley is tragic as the Roman version of Dr Phil. Delivering his lines in a bizarrely pretentious northern-English-with shades-of-Jamaican-patois-accent, his overblown sincerity is of an unimaginably embarrassing character.
"I see you've read your Seneca", he tells Colin Firth in the portentously gauche tones of a first year philosophy student; one of a plethora of what the writers though were 'clever' lines. How did they produce a script that is both overwritten and lazy?
But it's not as bad as the visual narration, which is possibly, and this is saying something, the worst thing about the whole enterprise. Take the journey from Rome to Brittania: 'over a big mountain, on to some horses, into a boat, over another mountain that is actually easily identifiable as the same mountain as the last one'. One of several moments badly enough done to be laugh out loud funny.
Somehow, things get even dafter in the final third, including a particularly idiotic 'revelation' that seeks to tie British mythology to the history of Rome. Are they for real? It seems that they are, and that is, perhaps, the most dispiriting thing about this (aside from everything else) dreadfully boring piece of cinema.