Olga Kurylenko unleashes beast mode as a revered British warrior seeking bloody vengeance against ruthless Roman oppressors. Boudica: Queen of War falls short on exposition and character development but delivers a quasi-historical actioner with gruesome glee. Limbs are hacked off, entrails torn out, and more throats slit than a slaughterhouse before Thanksgiving. There’s also a curious use of fantasy and mystical elements that don’t quite deliver the intended impact. The story told had room for dramatic depth beyond the carnage. An opportunity was missed for a more engaging experience.
In 61 AD, the Roman scholar Tacitus records the events that led to Britania’s revolt. Roman legionaries massacre Druids who kneel before them on the island of Mona. They invoke the prophecy of a queen before their deaths. She will punish the conquerors for desecrating their lands. Meanwhile, King Prasutagus (Clive Standen) of the Celtic Iceni tribe lays in bed with his wife and two daughters. The Queen (Kurylenko) is yet to be called Boudica. I honestly couldn’t make out her Celtic name. The family laughs together until Ciaran (Leo Gregory) brings important news. A new British procurator has been announced by Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus (Harry Kirton). Catus Decianus (Nick Moran) will soon arrive for tribute and a display of fealty.
Prasutagus paid the Romans to keep peace. He felt being subservient would save the Iceni from a harsh fate. The Queen and her girls (Lillibet Biutanaseva, Litiana Biutanaseva), resplendent in the latest makeup, leave to shop in town. They encounter callous Roman merchants and an unexpected display of loyalty. Cartimanda (Lucy Martin) of the Trinovantes tribe bows before the Queen. She senses her barbarian blood of the ancients. The Queen is destined to become Boudica.
An Unwelcome Guest
Catus Decianus and his legion of troops dine with Prasutagus at the Iceni village. The arrogant governor mocks the children’s Latin recital. They are all just trained savages. Prasutagus ignores the insult. He dutifully kisses Catus’ ring. But understands this greedy man will always want more. Prasutagus decides to leave their stronghold with his guards to clear bandits from the forest. He’ll prove to Catus that the status quo should remain. The Queen nervously watches as her beloved leaves. They don’t know that Emperor Nero has outlawed women from any position of authority.
Boudica: Queen of War never explains why the Iceni queen is the chosen one. She just exudes some kind of aura like Luke Skywalker with the Force. That’s an apt analogy, as a mythical sword flies to her hands on command. The film obviously draws inspiration from the Arthurian fable. That’s fine, magic swords are cool. But the plot had to elucidate further on her sudden empowerment. Everyone accepts Boudica as their savior without a second thought. This makes little sense and becomes more perplexing as the killing explodes.
The fight scenes are graphic but play out in an unrealistic manner. Boudica’s army shreds Roman armor like confetti. They plunge into battle wearing fur and somehow decimate soldiers covered in iron. Director/writer Jesse V. Johnson (Hell Hath No Fury, The Last Sentinel) again drinks from the fairy tale well. Supporting characters actually voice out loud the absurdity of Boudica’s battle strategies. They should be all dead, but drum roll please, her mere presence brings victory and savage comeuppance for the Romans. The Force is strong with Boudica. Johnson chronicles historical events with an exaggerated perspective. Recreating the actual combat tactics to some degree would have made the combat more believable.
The Warrior Queen
Boudica: Queen of War does well with practical effects. There’s thankfully no cheap CGI to fake hundreds of troops. This isn’t an epic with sweeping vistas a la Braveheart. The brutality is up close and personal. Tightly framed shots get the most bang for the buck. The Celts aren’t afraid to bite an ear or go for the jugular if the swordplay isn’t cutting it. Scenes of the eviscerated trying to hold their guts look pretty good. Johnson works within his budget constraints to create solid action. No one watching will have any complaints about the level of violence.
Kurylenko is a capable actress who has repeatedly proven she can be beautiful and ferocious. Her transition from the fragile queen to ass-kicking butcher isn’t a stretch. The film just needed longer scenes of her training. Johnson didn’t have to go over budget to accomplish this. He edits sharply with a reliance on the protagonist’s innate fantastical abilities as a crutch. A few extra minutes of her swinging a sword would have done wonders for the plot.
Boudica: Queen of War isn’t unwatchable despite many bumps in the road. Johnson’s use of the daughters surprised me and keeps an emotional thread throughout the film. Kurylenko tries her best with the material presented. Action fans wouldn’t change the channel here.
Boudica: Queen of War is a production of Bleiberg Entertainment, Boudeg, and Picture Perfect. It will have a concurrent VOD and limited theatrical release on October 27th from Saban Films.
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