directed by Dick Lowry
(USA, 2001)

The Huns are disorganized and prone to fighting among themselves. Attila's family and village are destroyed by another tribe for the crime of hunting a single deer on another tribe's land. But young Attila (Rollo Weeks) escapes and is raised by his uncle, King Rua (Steven Berkoff), head of a more powerful tribe. And he grows to manhood with legends of a prophesied great king who will unite the tribes and defeat the Roman nations to the west.

He becomes an adult (with Gerard Butler stepping into the role) and begins his career as a petty warlord, raiding peasant villages for minor riches. On one such raid, his eye is captured by N'Kara (Simmone Mackinnon), a redheaded woman with a fierce pride, a wicked blade and skirts conveniently slit to show off her legs to best effect -- but she is taken as a slave and lover by his brother, the spiteful and envious Bleda (Tommy Flanagan).

Meanwhile, the Roman empire in the fifth century is overextended, overconfident and increasingly weak. The disgraced Roman general Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe) is, it seems, the only competent man in the empire. Rome is ruled by the na•ve, foppish emperor Valentinian (Reg Rogers), whose strings are pulled by his dearest mother Placida (Alice Krige).

Attila is briefly seduced by Rome's wealth and decadence -- as well as its conniving princess, Honoria (Kirsty Mitchell). But Rua's death brings him back to his tribe to wrest the kingship -- and the redhaired N'Kara -- from his brother. And soon, Attila's ambition for power is unleashed on the tribes and lands around him, including the empire's eastern and western capitals.

Butler makes an intense Attila, arrogant and brooding. Boothe is his equal in cunning, although his delivery is drier, more restrained. Also of note is Pauline Lynch as the mad wisewoman Galen and Mackinnon, who plays both N'Kara and Ildico, another slave who becomes one of Attila's many wives and teaches him the importance of getting a woman's name right in bed. Tim Curry makes a few brief appearances as Theodosius, emperor of Constantinople.

Television is making bold strides in its competition with the big screen, making powerful, big-budget movies and mini-series such as The Mists of Avalon and, now, Attila. It's possible to quibble over details of history -- no film ever seems to get it right, and this one plays extremely loosely with numerous facts about Attila and his era -- but this is a dramatic, colorful production sure to please anyone who loves tales of epic conflict. The battle scenes are undermanned but are well executed and convincing, particularly in the final 30 minutes of the three-hour saga. There is also a great deal of pageantry, with excellent costumes and sets and a lush setting for the tale. But this story doesn't end on the battlefield and, while some will say the final portion is anticlimactic, it does add a historically accurate wrap to events.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002

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