The Last Legion

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The Last Legion
Last legion poster.jpg
Promotional film poster
Directed byDoug Lefler
Produced byDino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
Raffaella De Laurentiis
Tarak Ben Ammar
Screenplay byJez Butterworth
Tom Butterworth
Story byCarlo Carlei
Peter Rader
Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Based onThe Last Legion
by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
StarringColin Firth
Thomas Sangster
Ben Kingsley
Kevin McKidd
Aishwarya Rai
Music byPatrick Doyle
CinematographyMarco Pontecorvo
Edited bySimon Cozens
Distributed byThe Weinstein Company
Release date
  • 6 April 2007 (2007-04-06)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$67 million[1]
Box office$25.67 million[2]

The Last Legion is a 2007 historical action adventure film directed by Doug Lefler and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. It is based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. It stars Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Peter Mullan, Kevin McKidd, John Hannah, and Iain Glen. It premiered in Abu Dhabi on 6 April 2007.

The film is loosely inspired by the events of 5th-century European history, notably the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. 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 Augustulus as Emperor in AD 475.

Having travelled through much of the known world in search of Caesar's sword, Ambrosinus has then become the tutor to the young Romulus. 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 usually revealed to be simple trickery. One of the running concepts of the movie surrounds the question of whether or not Ambrosinus has any actual magical abilities or simply an illusionist. 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.

The 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, Vatrenus, Batiatus, and Demetrius, accompanied by a female agent of the Eastern Roman Empire – an Indian warrior named Mira. 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 commanding general. With the collapse of Roman support of Britain, the legion had decided to disband and settle as farmers. Most of the men in the legion had married and had families. They also did not want to antagonise the powerful warlord Vortgyn. During their stay in the small Celtic village, Romulus meets and befriends a young girl named Igraine. Aurelius and Mira practice swordfighting and become close to each other. Ambrosinus told Romulus of a scar on his chest, similar to the design on the sword hilt, which he received from Vortgyn after he refused to tell him where the sword of Caesar was.

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. After confronting Igraine outside of the village, he convinces her to tell everyone in the village to surrender Romulus and has several of his men kill the blacksmith's wife and sons. When a tearful Igraine tells the villagers of what has happened, Aurelius confesses that Romulus is the emperor of Rome. The blacksmith then demands revenge on his wife's and sons' deaths, and Aurelius and his men decide to lead an army to Hadrian's Wall to face Vortgyn's armies in one final battle.

Before leaving the village, Romulus receives from Igraine a suit of Roman armour which belonged to her brother, which he has since outgrown. Aurelius, wielding Caesar's sword, leads his men and a small number of Celtic warriors against Vortgyn's forces at Hadrian's Wall. Mira, Batiatus, Demetrius, Romulus, and the archers pelt the infantry with arrows, while Aurelius, Vatrenus, and several Celtic soldiers struggled to hold the charging enemy at the open gate. Despite their casualties, Vortgyn's soldiers began to slowly overwhelm the small force on the wall. The battle appears hopeless until the rest of the Ninth Legion, having taken up their old Roman arms and uniforms, appear on the nearby ridgeline, and turn the tide of battle. The two warring sides cease their hostilities upon sighting Ambrosinus holding aloft Vortgyn's golden mask, after confronting and burning him alive at a tree-sanctuary of his secret brotherhood close to the battlefield.

After having fought and severely injured Aurelius, Wulfila is confronted by Romulus who is armed with Caesar's sword. Romulus stabs Wulfila in the chest, saying "that's for my mother", pauses, and further impales him, saying "that's for my father". 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 by his Druid name, 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 the two raised Romulus as their own son. He became a wise ruler, took the girl Igraine as his wife, and adopted the name "Pendragon". The boy, Arthur, recognises Romulus as his father and Igraine as his mother.

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 Excalibur.


Production notes[edit]

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 at Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia in 2005.[3]

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.[4]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

The film's costumes were designed by Paolo Scalabrino, who had worked on Gangs of New York and Troy.[3]

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.[3]

The film's score was composed by Patrick Doyle.


The film had a relatively poor reception by the public and critics. As of June 2010, the film had an average score of 37 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 12 reviews.[5] On Rotten Tomatoes, 16% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 55 reviews (9 "fresh", 46 "rotten"). The site's consensus reads, "With miscast leads and unoriginal, uninspired dialogue, The Last Legion pales in comparison to the recent cinematic epics it invokes."[6]

Differences from the novel[edit]

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 and a legionary rather than a general, and his original legion, the Nova Invicta, is destroyed much earlier. The Nova Invicta Legion was known as the Emperor's Imperial Guard in the film, but in the novel it is a new legion formed by Flavius Orestes himself to defend the Western Roman Empire's frontiers from barbarian attacks.

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.[7]

The film alters the capital of the Western Empire from its historical location at Ravenna, as depicted in the novel, to Rome. By 460, Rome had not actually been the capital of the empire for nearly 200 years.

In the film, Romulus told his mother that "during the last five years, there have been five emperors and all of them were murdered". The five Roman Emperors Romulus mentioned were possibly Libius Severus (461–465), Anthemius (467–472), Olybrius (472), Glycerius (473–474), and Julius Nepos (474–475). While Libius Severus and Anthemius were in fact murdered by the Germanic-Roman general Ricimer, Olybrius died of an illness and both Glycerius and Nepos were deposed. Glycerius was forced to surrender to Nepos in 474, to which Nepos spared his life and sent him into exile possibly in Dalmatia. Nepos ruled over the Western Empire for thirteen months before he was deposed by the Roman commander Orestes and was forced to flee to Dalmatia.

The film depicts the coronation of Romulus (and subsequent fall of Rome) as having taken place in 460, while the novel gives the year as 476. In point of fact, coronations were not invented until later in the Roman Empire (in the Byzantine period). Historically, Romulus was a usurper proclaimed by his father in 475. It is believed he was born in 460. Romulus' reign was never recognised as emperor except by his father's troops. The emperors of the East continued to regard Julius Nepos, who had fled Italy and reestablished himself in Dalmatia in the face of a rebellion by Orestes, as the legitimate Western Emperor. 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 film, Igraine, Kustennin's daughter and Romulus' love interest, has an older brother, whereas in the novel, she is an only child.

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". In deleted scenes he uses more pagan terms to his language.

The final battle is identified as the Battle of Badon Hill in the novel but not in the film. In the novel, the opposing forces are listed here:

1. Aurelius Ambrosius Ventidius, Rufius Vatrenus, Cornelius Batiatus, Demetrius, Orosius, Livia Prisca, Romulus Augustulus, Ambrosinus, Kustennin, and the soldiers of the Twelfth Roman Legion(Legio XII Draco).

2. Wufila and two hundred barbarian horsemen, plus a contingent of Saxon mercenaries.

The deaths of Vatrenus, Batiatus, Demetrius, and Orosius take place differently between the novel and the film. In the film, Vatrenus was killed by Eastern Roman soldiers while trying to protect Romulus and Batiatus was killed by Wufila during the Battle of Badon Hill, while Demetrius survived in the end (Orosius does not appear in the film). In the novel, Vatrenus, Demetrius, and Orosius were killed during the Battle of Badon Hill, while Batiatus survived.

The standard of the Dragon Legion is depicted as a bronze dragon with a red-and-white striped tail in the film. In the novel, the standard is a silver-headed, open-jawed dragon with a purple tail.

Historical notes[edit]

Romulus Augustus and the "Fall of the Roman Empire"[edit]

The Western Roman Empire (blue) in 476.

Orestes, who was partly of Germanic blood, was historically the magister militum – the senior officer of the Roman army second to the emperor. He had indeed promised his Germanic foederati a third of Italy to settle in but not to Odoacer personally. Orestes was himself a usurper, having promised the land to foederati to buy their quiescence in his rebellion against the legitimate emperor Julius Nepos. Although Orestes proclaimed his son, Romulus Augustus (derisively called Augustulus, meaning "little Augustus") Emperor, the proclamation was not recognised as legitimate beyond the parts of the Italian Peninsula controlled by Orestes' troops. The common identification of Augustus as the "last Western Emperor" dates only from the publication of British historian Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the late 18th Century.

At the time of his proclamation as Emperor, Romulus Augustus was 16, older than portrayed in the film. Upon being captured by Odoacer, the boy usurper was seen to be a victim of his father. He was spared and sent to live in comfortable retirement in southern Italy.

There was a struggle for control of the Eastern Roman Empire at the time but the Emperor alluded to would probably have been Zeno (explicit in the novel). In truth, Zeno never recognised Romulus Augustus but recognised Julius Nepos as Emperor in the West until the latter's death in 480. At the behest of the Roman Senate, Zeno recognised Odoacer's administration of Italy; both he and Odoacer himself maintained the pretense of Nepos' reign. The Eastern Emperor eventually sent the Ostrogothic foederati under Theodoric the Great to depose Odoacer when the latter proved disloyal.


The uniforms and weapons of the Ninth Legion as depicted in the film reflect an earlier period of Roman history than that in which the film is set. By 460 CE, 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, mostly by the spatha.[citation needed]

Mira's weapon, the Katar (कटार), had not been invented at the time in which the action is set. Katars would come into widespread use more than 1000 years later, although with the earliest known examples dating from the 14th century.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

During scenes in the film where people are shown riding horses one can clearly see stirrups, even though that kind of stirrup did not come into use in Europe until after 700 CE.[citation needed]

Last of the Line[edit]

The Emperor Tiberius is referred to as "the last of Julius Caesar's line". Inconsistently, Romulus Augustulus is also depicted as the last of Julius Caesar's family line and Tiberius as one of his ancestors. Tiberius was actually the second of the five Julio-Claudian emperors, succeeding to the role of emperor as the adopted son of Augustus, who had himself been adopted by Julius Caesar. Augustus had named several of his own relatives as heirs, but as they all died, he named a son of his second wife, Livia, by her first marriage. Thus, Tiberius was not the last of any line established by Julius Caesar (Augustus' maternal great-uncle by blood) as he had no blood relation to Caesar at all. His successors, Caligula and Claudius were blood relatives of Julius Caesar through a maternal blood line dating back to Augustus's older sister, Octavia. Nero, a direct descendant of Augustus, ruled roughly twenty years after the death of Tiberius and was the final emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, thus making him the last ruler descended from Julius Caesar's family – the Julii.

In the film it is implied that Romulus' 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. The use of the title "Caesar" is also inaccurate. By the fifth century the title was generally used to refer to the designated heir, not an actual emperor or co-emperor, who bore the grander title of "Augustus", all the way through to the final collapse of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 1453.

The clear implication in the film is that the Imperial office was hereditary, which was never the case from the tentative establishment of the position of Emperor under Augustus down through the death of the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI, during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Emperors were proclaimed by the Senate, the people, or the army. They often associated their offspring as their junior partners or chosen successors, but there was nothing automatic about it. "Legitimacy," by the fifth century, meant official recognition by the co-emperor, which Romulus Augustus never had.

Flight to Britain[edit]

The film portrays the fugitives as having no chance to find loyalists except in Britain, the whole of the West otherwise in Odoacer's hands. In fact, Odoacer's rule did not extend beyond the Italian Peninsula. Across the Adriatic in Dalmatia Emperor Julius Nepos still ruled; with the Eastern Empire stretching beyond. Across Northern France, Roman legions cut off from Italy in the area historians now call the Domain of Soissons remained opposed to Odoacer. In barbarian-ravaged Hispania, Roman writ still ran in the major cities, and in what is now Morocco, local Berber leaders continued to regard themselves as loyal vassals. Although the real usurper Romulus Augustus could not expect to find help in any of these places, he could have found safe haven if he required it. Certainly they would have been more promising than late fifth century Britain, the Roman legions having departed the island for the continent in 407, more than half a century before the action of the film.

Missing Ninth Legion[edit]

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, and what happened to it is not known; however, it certainly was no longer in existence by the mid-2nd century, long before this movie is set.

Even if the Ninth had gone missing in the province, it is highly unlikely to have reappeared and continued in existence as a military force for the three centuries between AD 117 and 460, undocumented by the otherwise thorough Roman administration.

Connections to Arthurian legend[edit]

The film 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 a fictionalised version of the historical war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, also known as Aurelius Ambrosius, who led the Romano-British against the invading Saxons. He was said by Geoffrey of Monmouth to have been the brother of Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, and to have opposed Vortigern alongside his brother.

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."[citation needed] The last shots of the film establish the sword of Caesar as the legendary blade, as well as the Sword in the Stone, the latter originally a different weapon. A supernaturally powerful sword of Caesar's, called Crocea Mors ("Yellow Death"), was supposed to have been buried in Britain with the body of Nennius of Britain, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. The film also merges this myth with that of Excalibur.[citation needed]

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 ("hard"), and bwlch ("breach, gap, notch").[8] 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.[9]

The sword in the film 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 one of the Latin words for "sword".[4] 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.[citation needed]

Connections to other works[edit]

The film has similarities to King Arthur (2004). Both are set in Britain after the Romans left, and as Valerio Massimo Manfredi states, both feature a band of heroes escorting a boy of special status and a battle set at Hadrian's Wall.[4]

Kevin McKidd, who appears in The Last Legion, co-stars as Lucius Vorenus in the HBO drama series Rome, with Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo, who had a supporting role in King Arthur.[citation needed]

John Hannah later played Quintus Lentulus Batiatus in the Starz Television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.

Many of the film's actors would also go on to prominent roles in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Iain Glen (Orestes) would play "Jorah Mormont", Owen Teale (Vatrenus) would play "Alliser Thorne", and Alexander Siddig (Theodorus Andronikos) would play "Doran Martell".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Last Legion Box Office Data
  2. ^ The Last Legion (2007) – Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b c d e f g The Last Legion — notes. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  4. ^ 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 1 January 2008.
  5. ^ Last Legion, The (2007): Reviews. Metacritic. Retrieved 22 August 2007
  6. ^ The Last Legion — Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 August 2007
  7. ^ IMDb — Full Cast
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, 1995

External links[edit]