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The Last Legion

Promotional film poster
Directed by Doug Lefler
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
Raffaella De Laurentiis
Tarak Ben Ammar
Written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (book)
Jez Butterworth
Tom Butterworth
Carlo Carlei
Peter Rader
Starring Colin Firth
Thomas Sangster
Ben Kingsley
Aishwarya Rai
Peter Mullan
Kevin McKidd
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Marco Pontecorvo
Editing by Simon Cozens
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release date(s) April 6, 2007
Running time 102 min.
Country Italy
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $67 million[citation needed]
Gross revenue $25,303,038 (worldwide)[1]

The Last Legion is a 2007 film directed by Doug Lefler. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and others, it is based on a 2003 Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. It stars Colin Firth along with Sir Ben Kingsley and Aishwarya Rai, and premiered in Abu Dhabi on April 6, 2007.

The film is loosely inspired by the events of 5th century European history, notably the collapse of the Western Roman Empire under its last Emperor, Romulus Augustus. This is coupled with other facts and legends from the history of Britain and fantastic elements from the legend of King Arthur to provide a basis for the Arthurian legend.



The film is narrated by Ambrosinus, native to Britain, who knows of a legend concerning the sword of Julius Caesar, which was hidden away from evil men. It begins shortly before the coronation of Romulus as Emperor in 460.

Having traveled through much of the known world in search of Caesar's sword, Ambrosinus has then become Romulus's tutor. A Druid and part of a secret brotherhood protecting the sword, he at times gives the impression he is a magician, but his "magic" is just trickery. Romulus's father Orestes rules Rome but is not Emperor himself.

On the day before the coronation, Odoacer, commander of the barbarian Goths allied with Rome, demands a third of Italy from Orestes, but is rebuffed. The same day, Romulus meets the general of the Nova Invicta Legion, Aurelianus Caius Antonius, called "Aurelius".

The night after Romulus is crowned, Rome is attacked by the Goths. Most of Aurelius's men, pledged to protect the emperor, are killed, though Aurelius is only stunned and left for dead. Orestes and his wife are killed by Odoacer's lieutenant Wulfila, who captures Romulus.

Next day, Odoacer, now ruler of the Western Empire, plans to have Romulus killed. However, Ambrosinus convinces Odoacer to spare the boy. Instead, Romulus is exiled to Capri along with Ambrosinus, guarded by Wulfila and his men. His prison is a villa constructed more than four centuries earlier by the emperor Tiberius.

With Ambrosinus's help, Romulus discovers a hidden chamber within the villa. He comes across a statue of Caesar holding the fabled sword, forged by a Chalybian smith after his military campaigns in Britain. Writing near the statue's feet proclaims the sword was made for "he who is destined to rule". This is interpreted as a prophecy by various characters, and Romulus keeps the weapon.

The two are rescued from Capri by the loyal Aurelius and three surviving legionaries, accompanied by a female agent of the Eastern Roman Empire - a Keralite warrior named Mira (trained in the martial art of Kalarippayattu). They take Romulus to a seaport where the Eastern Roman Empire's emissary (whom Mira works for) and the senator Nestor have promised safe passage to Constantinople. However, they barely escape after they learn the Senate and the Eastern Empire have betrayed them and sided with Odoacer.

Ambrosinus persuades Romulus to seek refuge in Britain, where the Ninth Legion (called the Dragon Legion) may remain loyal, being far from the events. They are followed by Wulfila and his men; the Goth covets Caesar's sword after learning the prophecy. Crossing the Alps and the English Channel, the party travels to Hadrian's Wall and initially find no evidence of the legion until a farmer approaches and reveals he was its commander. With the collapse of Roman support of Britain, the legion had decided to disband and settle as farmers. They also did not want to antagonize the powerful warlord Vortgyn.

Vortgyn also desires the sword of Caesar as he aspires to rule the whole of Britain. It is revealed that Vortgyn and Ambrosinus are old enemies. After meeting with the Goths, Vortgyn decides to either capture or kill Romulus as a gesture to Odoacer. Aurelius, wielding Caesar's sword, leads a few supporters against Vortgyn's forces at Hadrian's Wall. The battle appears hopeless until the rest of the Ninth Legion, having taken up their old Roman arms and uniforms, appear and turn the tide. The two warring sides cease their hostilities when Ambrosinus confronts and burns Vortgyn alive at a tree-sanctuary of his secret brotherhood near the battlefield. Romulus kills Wulfila with Caesar's sword, avenging his parents. He tells Aurelius that he fought like a dragon, whereupon Aurelius replies that Romulus fought like the son of a dragon.

Repulsed by the deaths in the battle, Romulus heaves away his sword which remarkably pierces a large rock and becomes lodged there. Many years later, Ambrosinus, now known as Merlin, takes a young boy to the battlefield to describe the now legendary events. Merlin, who has visibly aged little since the battle, says that Aurelius married Mira and raised Romulus as their own son, and Romulus became a wise ruler and adopted the name "Pendragon". The boy, Arthur, recognizes Romulus as his father.

In a final scene, the sword of Julius Caesar is shown embedded in the stone, with moss growing on the blade, covering the original inscription, leaving only the Latin letters which, when read as a single word, read Escalibur.

Partial cast

Production notes

The film's producers include Dino De Laurentiis, Martha, his second wife, and Raffaella, his daughter by his first wife. Raffaella suggested director Doug Lefler due to his work on Dragonheart: A New Beginning, which she produced. Filming took place in Tunisia and Slovakia in 2005.[2]

Valerio Massimo Manfredi helped adapt his novel to the screen, also acting as historical consultant. In an interview he states at least four hours of footage was shot but ultimately shortened or cut, including scenes of the heroes' journey through the Alps and the English Channel.[3]

For the role of Aurelius, executive producer Harvey Weinstein suggested Colin Firth, known for playing Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1995) and more recently, Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones films. Firth accepted the role due to the story, which he liked, and that it was very different from previous roles.[2]

Thomas Sangster (Romulus) was one of the last to be cast. He had previously worked with Firth in Love Actually (2003) and Nanny McPhee (2006), and their familiarity with each other benefited both.[2]

Sir Ben Kingsley was cast as Ambrosinus/Merlin after one meeting with Lefler. Kingsley was drawn to the mystique of the character, whom Lefler describes as a "warrior shaman". Kingsley also found the story interesting.[2]

Aishwarya Rai was cast as Mira after the filmmakers decided "somebody that had a rare beauty... who could move very well", in Lefler's words, was ideal for the role. Lefler touted Rai's training in dance as an asset for her fight scenes. Like Firth, Rai took the role as a change of pace from her previous work.[2]

The film's costumes were designed by Paolo Scalabrino, who had worked on Gangs of New York and Troy.[2]

Lefler wanted each character to have a unique fighting style. Richard Ryan served as the film's sword master, helping him plan the fight scenes; he had worked on Troy and would work on Stardust as such.[2]

The film's score was composed by Patrick Doyle.


As of September 7, 2007, the film had an average score of 37 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 12 reviews.[4] On Rotten Tomatoes, 16% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 52 reviews (8 "fresh", 44 "rotten") and the "cream of the crop" rating was 8%.[5]

Differences from the novel

The film departs from the novel in several ways; so much so that its credits state it to be "based in part" on the original.

In the novel, Aurelius (called Aurelianus Ambrosius Ventidius) is a low-ranking officer rather than a general, and his original legion, the Nova Invicta, is destroyed much earlier.

The novel's band of heroes includes three surviving legionaries (Aurelius, Vatrenus and Batiatus), a Venetian warrior woman called Livia Prisca, and two Greek gladiators, Demetrius and Orosius. The film turns Livia into the Indian Mira, and Demetrius and Orosius into legionaries. While Demetrius remains a prominent supporting character, Orosius becomes an uncredited background extra.[6]

The film alters the capital of the Western Empire from Ravenna to Rome.

The film depicts the coronation of Romulus (and subsequent fall of Rome) as having taken place in 460, while the novel correctly gives the year as 476. Romulus was Emperor for ten months, not a single day as in the film.

The "Last Legion" in the novel is a fictional Twelfth Legion (Legio XII Draco), not the Ninth. While the Ninth is called the "Dragon" Legion as in the novel, it was the "Hispanic" Legion (Legio IX Hispana) in real life. A Twelfth Legion did exist under different names, but not as Draco.

The prophecy concerning Romulus is worded differently in the novel: it speaks of a youth with a sword who will bring peace and prosperity to Britain, and the "eagle and the dragon" flying once more over the land (Manfredi makes these the dying words of the soldier-bishop Germanus, whom he also makes the founder of the Dragon Legion).

In the novel, Ambrosinus (full Roman name Meridius Ambrosinus, originally known as Myrdin Emries in Britain, which later becomes Merlin) is a Christian and yet also a Druid. This is left unclear in the film, where he mostly speaks in generic terms of "truth" and "faith"; one exception is when he tells Vortgyn (spelled Wortigern in the novel) to "burn in Hell".

The final battle is identified as the Battle of Badon Hill in the novel but not in the film.

Historical notes

Orestes, who was partly of German blood, was historically the magister militum — the senior officer of the Roman army second to the emperor. He had indeed promised his German foederati a third of Italy to settle in but not to Odoacer personally. Orestes was himself an usurper, having used his power over the foederati to depose the legitimate emperor Julius Nepos and inaugurate his son Romulus Augustus.

Romulus's coronation and capture is depicted as taking place in Rome, whereas his historical reign and abdication took place in Ravenna.

There was civil strife in the Eastern Roman Empire at the time but the Emperor alluded to would probably have been Zeno (explicit in the novel). The Eastern Emperor eventually neutralised Odoacer when the latter became too popular with the people of Italy.

The Emperor Tiberius is referred to as "the last of Julius Caesar's line". Inconsistently, Romulus Augustus is also depicted as the last of Julius Caesar's family line and Tiberius as one of his ancestors. In fact Tiberius was second of the five Julio-Claudian emperors, and was adopted by Augustus, who had himself been adopted by Julius Caesar. Tiberius was thus not the last of any line established by Julius Caesar (Augustus' maternal great-uncle by blood). Moreover, Tiberius is the only emperor of the dynasty who has no biological link to Julius Caesar (Tiberius was a Claudian, not a Julian, by birth). Historically, it was Nero, who ruled roughly twenty years after the death of Tiberius, that was the final emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and thus, technically, the last ruler descended from Julius Caesar's family - the Julii. In the film it is implied that Romulus's descent from Caesar's family is through his (unnamed) mother (which is presumably why Orestes cannot be Emperor himself). Historically, nothing is known about Romulus's mother, but the Julii had been extinct for more than 400 years before Romulus was born. He could only be claimed as "the last of Julius Caesar's line" by the fact that he was the last Roman (Western) emperor to bear the name "Caesar", which all Emperors subsequent to Nero adopted as part of their Imperial title.

The film uses the premise of the missing Ninth Legion still existing somewhere in Britain at this time, a once popular idea among British Historians. The Ninth Legion disappears from Roman records from about 120 AD, by which time it was no longer serving in Britain. Rather, it is believed to have been destroyed near the Danube frontier during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Even if the Ninth had gone missing in Britain, it is highly unlikely to have continued its existence as a military force for the three centuries between 160 and 460. At any rate by the late fifth century AD Britain had already long been abandoned by Rome, as the last legions had departed for the Imperial capital from Britain in 410 AD.

The uniforms and weapons of the Ninth Legion as depicted in the film reflect an earlier period of Roman history. By the time of the official fall of the Western Empire, Roman legionaries did not wear scarlet cloaks, nor did they carry the semi-circular shields of ancient times, and the short stabbing sword known as the gladius had been replaced.

Mira's weapon, the Katar or Katara (कटार), had not been invented at the time in which the action is set. Katars came into use more than 1000 years later.

A few of the castles and fortified cities in the film have round spires with pointed coned roofs, when in fact this style of buildings was not common until the late Middle Ages.

Connections to Arthurian legend

The movie shows King Arthur as a descendant of the last Roman imperial line. In Le Morte d'Arthur Arthur claims descent from Constantine and is crowned Roman Emperor after defeating its (fictional) ruler, Lucius Tiberius.

Aurelius is based on Aurelius Ambrosius, brother of Arthur's father Uther Pendragon. Aurelius and Uther opposed Vortigern. Aurelius is a fictionalized version of the historical war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, who led the Romano-British against the invading Saxons.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical work The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae), Merlin, originally a figure unconnected with Arthur, is called Merlin Ambrosius after Geoffrey merged legends of Aurelius Ambrosius into the character. Ambrosius becomes Ambrosinus in the film. In the novel, Merlin's original British name Myrdin Emries is directly taken from Welsh versions of the tales.

Vortgyn's death by fire in a burning tree shelter/shrine echoes the legendary Vortigern's death, as according to Geoffrey of Monmouth the latter died in his tower when it was set aflame.


One of the movie's taglines is "Before King Arthur, there was Excalibur". The last shots of the film establish the fictional sword of Caesar as the legendary blade (also the Sword in the Stone, originally a different weapon).

The word Excalibur comes from the Old French Escalibor which is itself a corruption of Caliburnus or Caliburn. The name Caliburn is often held to be Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latinized form of the original Welsh Caledfwlch, which combines the elements caled ("battle, hard"), and bwlch ("breach, gap, notch").[7] Manfredi espouses an alternative theory wherein Caliburn derives from Latin chalybs "steel", which is in turn derived from Chalybes, the name of an Anatolian ironworking tribe.[8]

The sword bears the inscription CAI • IVL • CAES • ENSIS CALIBVRNVS. The characters "CAI. IVL. CAES." are an abbreviated form of Caius (or Gaius) Julius Caesar. Manfredi loosely translates ensis caliburnus as "sword of steel". Ensis is Latin for "sword".[3] While in reality Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latinization Caliburn eventually developed into the form Excalibur, the film explains the origin of the name Excalibur by having the inscription obscured by moss; the remaining letters spell out E S CALIBVR.

Connections to other films

Colin Firth, Aishwarya Rai and Rupert Friend have all appeared in adaptations of the Jane Austen novel Pride & Prejudice. Firth appeared in the BBC miniseries that has been considered the closest adaptation of the work itself, portraying Fitzwilliam Darcy. Rai has appeared in the Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice, portraying the character based on Elizabeth Bennet. Friend appeared in the 2005 version, where he portrayed Mr. Wickham.

Both Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson, who starred as the Roman soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo in the drama series Rome, have gone on to play characters in historical King Arthur film adaptations; McKidd in The Last Legion and Stevenson in King Arthur (2004). Both are set in Britain after the Romans left. Valerio Massimo Manfredi has commented on several similarities between the two films (and his book), such as a band of heroes escorting a boy of special status and a battle set at Hadrian's Wall.[3]

In this film Thomas Sangster plays a version of Uther Pendragon. He earlier played another Arthurian character — young Tristan in Tristan & Isolde (2006).


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Last Legion — notes. Retrieved 01-01-2008.
  3. ^ a b c Cavallini, Eleonora. "The Chalybes from Scythia to Britannia: Interview with Valerio Massimo Manfredi about the novel/movie The Last Legion." PDF Retrieved 01-01-2008.
  4. ^ Last Legion, The (2007): Reviews. Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-08-22
  5. ^ The Last Legion — Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2007-08-22
  6. ^ IMDb — Full Cast
  7. ^ R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), pp.64-5
  8. ^ The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, 1995

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Last Legion is a 2007 movie directed by Doug Lefler, based on a 2003 Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. The film links the collapse of the Western Roman Empire with the legend of King Arthur.



  • Every living creature has a destiny.
  • We need heroes, don't we?


  • [reading an inscription] "One edge to defend, one to defeat. In Britannia was I forged to fit the hand of he who is destined to rule."
  • To the last breath.


  • Senator Nestor: Caesar is a word of the past.


[Odoacer, usurper of Rome, makes the deposed boy Emperor Romulus look in his sword blade.]
Odoacer: Do you see a boy? Or do you see a Caesar?
Romulus: I see a Caesar.

Merlin: Arthur, Arthur, Arthur. Have I ever lied to you?
Arthur: Every day.

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