The Last Legion (2007)

I didn’t expect much from The Last Legion but I like movies set during the Roman Empire and this was said to tell the pre-history of King Arthur which sounded interesting and so I watched it. I wasn’t aware that Colin Firth is in this movie. If I had realized it I wouldn’t have watched it. That could only go wrong. He is not plausible as a Roman general and the fact that he seemed to make fun of the role didn’t really help much. Pairing him with the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai made matters worse. Chemistry wise it didn’t work. And how did Ben Kingsley end up in this? That it was historically inaccurate didn’t bother me so much or let’s just say, it didn’t matter anymore.

The movie is set in 460 A.D. The last Roman emperor, a boy of 12 years, Romulus Augustus (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), has just been crowned when the Goths invade the city. He is sent to Capri with his mentor Ambrosinus (Kingsley), part druid, part warrior. They are rescued from Capri by the loyal general Aurelius (Firth) who is helped by three male and one female warrior. After realizing they have been betrayed by senator Nestor, they flee to Britannia to look for the Ninth Legion which is located so far away from Rome that it might hopefully still be loyal to the emperor.

While there is hardly anything supernatural happening with the exception of the emperor finding Excalibur, there are a lot of fighting scenes, some romance and most of all the well liked topic of a very few highly dexterous warriors against a lot of far weaker opponents.

While I’m still not sure the movie was intentionally funny, I didn’t mind watching it because it made me laugh quite often. It may very well be that with another main actor it wouldn’t have been funny but at possibly much more decent. I think this is easily Colin Firth’s worst role.

While it was based on the novel The Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi it felt as if it had been adapted from a comic.

Watch it if you like action-adventures and if you are extremely keen on movies on the Roman Empire and don’t mind historical inaccuracy. I wouldn’t rate it higher than 2/5.

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Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996)

Rarely did a movie deserve the Academy Awards as much as The English Patient. It is one of the most beautiful war romances that I have ever seen. Or, to be accurate, two of the most beautiful romances as the movie tells two parallel stories. Based on Michael Ondaatje’s wonderful eponymous novel, The English Patient combines everything that an accomplished movie needs. Beautiful pictures, a touching story, an intriguing plotline, wonderful music, great characters  and outstanding actors. This is one of the movies that I have watched at least three times and every time I discovered another layer. It is surprisingly rich and, I would argue, flawless.

They call him “The English Patient” (Ralph Fiennes), the mysterious man, they rescued from a shot down airplane in the desert during WWII. He is heavily burned, will probably not survive. They bring him to Italy and a young nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), volunteers to stay back and take care of him. She moves with him into an abandoned villa. He doesn’t know his identity but Hana finds a notebook and with its help the memory returns slowly and the story unfolds in flashbacks.

They are not alone for long, Kip (Naveen Andrews), a young Sikh and the thief David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) join her. Kip is part of a bomb disposal unit and the growing love between Hana and him is the second love story in this movie. It is beautiful but by far less tragic than that between the English patient and his lover. Caravaggio adds even another story line to the already rich plot. He is someone who thinks he knows who the badly burned man is. In fact he is sure that the patient is someone who wronged him once.

The flashbacks show us the mysterious patient, the Hungarian Count Almásy, 1930 in the Sahara desert. He is a mapmaker of the Royal Geographical Society. At the beginning of WWII he is still in the Sahara where he meets the British agent Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his beautiful wife Catherine  (Kristin Scott Thomas). Despite their fighting the attraction, they fall in love. They have an affair that ends abruptly when Catherine breaks it off. They meet again later and the following events make this probably one of the most tragic movie romances of all time.

The figure of Count Almásy is actually based on a real person, only his story was a different one.

The nurse Hana is certainly one of the most appealing nurses in any war movie. The gentleness and devotion with which she takes care of the dying man is touching. I am sure that there were many nurses like her in different wars and they deserve an homage.  I have a great deal of admiration for these courageous, disinterested women.

The intensity of the interwoven stories, the mysteries, the wonderful settings (the desert, Italy during the war, the Italian villa), the gripping part of the bomb defusing, all this together make this an absolute must-see.  Last but not least I’d like to mention the beautiful score by Gabriel Yared (you can listen to it here).