Centurion: A story of sheer survival and vengeance | Sunday Observer

Centurion: A story of sheer survival and vengeance

27 January, 2019

The Roman Empire’s over ambitious expansion was what sealed its eventual fall. In the course of their brutal empire building enterprise they expounded their belief that it was their ‘duty’ to civilise the world. ‘Rome’s duty is to civilise the world’ they maintained, as the justification for their brutal ways of conquest.

The might of Rome was opposed by many nations and tribes in the lands the Roman legions marched into, and a story of such a stage of Rome’s history is found set in the days of the Roman campaign in Britain, in the movie Centurion directed by Neil Marshall. Centurion is a movie that offers a thrilling narrative based on the disappearance of Rome’s Ninth Legion in Caledonia during the early part of second century AD.

With the acting talents of Academy Award nominated actor Michael Fassbender in the title role, the movie shows how Rome’s expansion was getting pushed back by the fierce tribes of the British Isles where gruesome guerrilla warfare was declared by native tribes, upon the sophisticated Roman military. A movie with scenes of bloody battle and chilling violence, along the narrative one sees there is no ideological view of romanticizing the Roman enterprise, to portray them as conquering heroes. Indeed, what one sees is the cold brutal barbarity of war and vengeance.

Fierce resistance among the Northern British tribes places Rome’s ambitions of fully conquering Britain in jeopardy. The story shows the Romans confronted by a tribe called Picts who under the cover of night overrun a Roman outpost killing the entire garrison and taking but one prisoner, the Centurion Quintus Dias played by Fassbender. Dias proves to be of interest to the Picts as he can speak their language and is therefore, tortured and interrogated.

After eventually escaping from the clutches of the Picts, Dias makes a frantic run across inhospitable terrain relentlessly pursued by his former captors. Meanwhile, the Roman Governor of Britannia dispatches the Ninth Legion to liquidate the Picts and on their march into Pict territory Dias encounters them and is saved from his pursuers by the Legion under the command of the formidable General Titus Flavius Virilus. Regaining his place in the folds of the Roman military Dias once again finds himself on the march to face his old enemies, marching as part of the Ninth Legion under the command of Virilus.

The mission under Virilus is provided by the Roman Governor, the guidance of an expert tracker. The tracker is a mute enigmatic native woman named Etain. A woman unbeknown to Virilus and his men had been immeasurably wronged by the Romans in the past. Having witnessed her parents tortured and killed in front of her by Romans when she was a child and then being ravaged by them she was made mute by her torturers who had taken her tongue so she may not speak of what she has seen.

Etain proves to be a ‘double agent’ so to say, who leads the Ninth Legion into an ambush which results in the decimation of the Legion and the capture of its commander Virilus. After a desperate bid to rescue Virilus, led by Dias and a few remaining soldiers goes horribly wrong, the result is a Pict mission to either kill all remaining soldiers of the Ninth Legion or die trying.

Fleeing in mortal terror over the treacherous terrain of snow covered highlands and dense forestry the narrative shows how the tables have turned as the natives who were once the ruthlessly hunted become the hunters, relentlessly hunting down the invaders. What follows is a story of survival where trust and treachery take shape in unlikely situations and the path to flee death in favour of survival becomes nearly as unbearable as the prospect of death itself.

Filmed with captivating scenery of the highlands and pristine landscapes of Britain, Centurion is a work of cinema that shows the deathly ferocity in the folds of tranquil and enchanting nature, where the natives are shown as being one with their land and the foreign invaders as cultured creatures who must undergo the test to survive the rigours of nature.

Centurion shows how the battle of culture versus nature unfolds through a story set in the days of the Roman Empire, and how the politics of the Roman desire to spread ‘civilisation’ was too great an arrogance to be tolerated by sons and daughters of Britannia’s soil who above all else treasured the independence of the land of their forefathers.