Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Centurion (movie review)

I viewed the movie 'Centurion' (2010) last evening, and thought there were enough cultural tie-ins to put a review here. The movie was from the UK, and I think they did a pretty good job with it. The movie, set about 2,000 years ago in what is now the Scottish Highlands, was similar to "a Roman versus Pictish Braveheart." The one big difference was that there was no effort to turn either side into either protagonists or antagonists. It was chiefly from a Roman perspective.

Centurion is a 2010 British film directed by Neil Marshall. It centres on the supposed disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Caledonia. The movie stars Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko and Dominic West.


It is AD 117 and the Roman garrisons are struggling to contain the Picts, the original inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. The Picts, under their king, Gorlacon, are perfecting guerrilla warfare and are eliminating Roman outposts one by one. Centurion Quintus Dias is the only survivor of a Pictish raid and is taken prisoner by Vortix. In the meantime, Agricola, the Roman governor of Britannia wants to obtain favour with the central administration, hoping to secure a transfer back to the comforts of Rome. He dispatches the Ninth Legion to the front under General Titus Flavius Virilus, with orders to eradicate the Pict threat, providing him with a Brigantian scout, a mute woman, Etain.


One interesting parallel with our culture is that the Picts were not Gaels. They were not Celts, but from a people who predated the Gaels in Scotland. A very ancient Atlanto-Mediterranean people. The vast majority of Scotland--or as the Romans called it: "Caledonia"--was their domain at this point. Gaels, originally from Ireland, occupied the far west end of Caledonia. Therefore, there is an interesting parallel to our culture with the very ancient Euganei people, and the Celto-Gaulish people who arrived later; and with the Euganeians and the Cisalpine Gauls both opposing the Romans. So I suppose that a Scottish person could take pride in both their Pictish and Gaelic heritage in the same manner that we would take pride in both our Euganeian (ancient Camunnian) and Gaulish heritage.

Pict homeland in blue
I thought that the acting and cinematography were very good. It was a particularly violent movie, and the characters reflected a world in which life was not worth much. In other words, they appeared like people who knew that they could die at any time. There wasn't much time for sentiment as the mortal struggle continued right to the very end. The mountainous Caledonian landscape was portrayed as rugged and beautiful. I would guess more beautiful, just in terms of the landscape, than it is today. For one thing it was more forested in ancient times; and inhabited by an equally rugged people. Most of the scenery appeared to be of the Scottish Highlands, or at least was intended to be. It was wonderfully dark, gloomy, cold, and wet. I would say that the Picts reminded me of the ancient Camunni.

With all the good acting and characters, one which stood out with me was the character of Arianne (Emogen Poots), an exiled Pictish woman, thought to be a witch, who risked her life to help several Roman soldiers. She reminded me, very plausibly, of a beautiful, rugged, and self-sufficient young woman; both dainty and tough. She seemed to have managed a positive outlook despite a very rough life; which I found inspirational. Arianne, with her dark green dress, somehow reminded me more of a Welsh woman; however, Emogen Poots is actually English. The Romans in her home seemed to be taken in with her self-determinism and hospitable manner, and showed a great respect for her. While I'm on the subject, the movie portrayed a couple of Pictish warrior women, which I believe is historically accurate. I'm not sure about the Norse or Germanic peoples, but Celts and other ancient cultures did have a few of the stronger females serving as warriors.

The movie is based on the true story of the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion. A legion recruited in Roman Hispania (modern Spain/Portugal), and sent to Roman Britannia. It should be noted that the Roman Empire never conquered Pictish Caledonia or Gaelic Hibernia (Ireland). In reality, the Picts were the protagonists. They had every right to defend their homeland. I definitely recommend this movie. By the way, a "Centurion" was a Roman officer.


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