“Rates much better as a drama than for historical accuracy.”
Probably best to approach this with few expectations of this being a factual representation of the time; more than once, it felt clearly like the writer was using the Roman occupation of Britain, and Boudica’s rebellion, as a metaphor for American’s involvement in Iraq. There are certainly enough anachronisms, particularly in the dialogue (the Roman Emperor chatting informally away with the leader of a British tribe, and references to “terrorists”), that it seems deliberate. The basic story is the one well-known of legend: after her husband’s death, and the raping of her daughters by the invading Romans, Boudica (Kingston) led her tribe in an initially successful revolt, only to be stopped when the full force of the Empire was turned on them.
There’s a lot of familiar faces here, most obviously Kingston, who is well-known (in this household, at least) as River Song from Doctor Who – I kept expecting Boudica to enter a scene and say, “Hello, sweetie!” But there’s also Potts, as a deeply creepy Emperor Nero, well before we knew him a nerd in Primeval, and Blunt, as one of Boudica’s daughters, has gone on to significant Hollywood fame. The performances are really what keeps this interesting: Kingston brings the right level of steely resolve to her role, and is particularly convincing when rousing her troops to battle. Equally as good is Michael Feast, as Roman general Suetonius, who is there because of a combination of “professional pride” and the Emperor’s whims, and puts across exactly the right sense of battle-weary experience.
What doesn’t work as well are the battles, in part because the budget for this falls well short of what we’re used to seeing in terms of the approximate period, e.g. Gladiator, 300. There are some moments of spectacle, such as a burning Roman encampment, or a plain covered with corpses, but the shortage of live extras is often embarrassingly obvious. They’re not well-shot either, with an irritating strobing effect which serves no purpose, and Boadica doesn’t do much actual fighting, mostly waving her sword from the back of a chariot [without spiked wheels, I was disappointed to note. Look, if you’re gonna play fast and loose with historical accuracy, you might as well include the coolest thing about the queen…]
Still, I can’t say we were bored, and the solid acting more than made up for the occasionally-shaky production values, though it is definitely important to go in to this, not expecting a Discovery channel documentary. Instead, this is Exhibit A, proving that when cinematic necessity and historical facts collide, the latter will almost always come off worse.
Dir: Bill Anderson
Star: Alex Kingston, Hugo Speer, Emily Blunt, Andrew Lee Potts