We were on holiday in Northumberland, near Hadrian’s Wall, visiting lots of Roman archaeological sites, so we thought we’d watch a movie set in that part of the world and that sort of time. The film Centurion is based on the story popularised by Rosemary Sutcliff in The Eagle Of The Ninth (1954) that the Legio IX Hispana, stationed in northern Britain during the C.2, was wiped out during an expedition north of Hadrian’s Wall. This theory was inspired by the disappearance of the IX from the historical record after 120 C.E., and is now known to be incorrect as inscriptions relating to the legion have been found in the Netherlands dating from the following decades. However, it’s an enduring and powerful piece of mythology, and this film takes it as the starting point for a military adventure of the ‘trapped behind enemy lines’ variety. This could have made for a good film. Indeed, given the involvement of Michael Fassbender and Dominic West in two of the three main roles, both of whom have been guilty of some good acting, I was anticipating that it would be—something gritty, violent, sweary, and exciting.
Instead it is ludicrously, hilariously terrible. I got warm, nostalgic feelings from watching it, because I had almost forgotten the existence of truly awful historical dramas, which used to be a staple of film and TV—it’s more likely a case of my having stopped watching them than that they don’t exist any more, but I hadn’t seen anything like this since the early 90s. Even the opening credits looked like something produced when people were still excited by the novelty of using computers for that sort of thing, with their unnecessary three-dimensionality, and their inexplicably crappy textures. The scenario is what it is, neither good nor bad, but the story that’s built on it is totally lacking in credibility, the writing is startlingly inept, and the acting (from all parties, including the stars) is as wooden as a forklift pallet. Sometimes shitty lines are tolerable, in a good action movie with a clear narrative, but there’s not even any noticeable relationship between the choices made by the protagonists and the outcomes they lead to, so it’s impossible for anyone who’s paying attention to suspend their disbelief. The fight sequences consist of an undifferentiated mass of fight choreography and injury effects, followed by one side or the other winning, without any clear story having been told about how they came to do so—and at the end of the day the fight sequences should have been the one thing Centurion had going for it. I don’t regret watching the movie, because I had a laugh, but this is seriously one of the most incompetently made feature films I can recall watching.