Olga Kurylenko is one actress who always chooses to push the boundaries rather than settle for something fairly facile. Her new film Boudica: Queen of War, is a physically grueling project, but at the same time, it lacks the gritty feel it was trying to evoke. The story is in fact well documented, with many films depicting the trials and tribulations of Boudica, who ultimately became a fierce warrior and led the Saxons’ war against the Romans in the first century. Written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, the film tries to capture the essence of Boudica’s life, beginning from the days she was married to Prasutagus, the king of Britannia, all the way up to her death in 62 A.D. Olga Kurylenko takes on the responsibility to portray Boudica and make it her own, but the shoddy direction and the lazy writing don’t do justice to her fierce performance.
Boudica: Queen Of War begins with the Romans pillaging the British Isles and shows how they massacred the druids who believed that the Goddess of War Boudica would return to stop the slaughter. Prasutagus had to kneel in front of the Roman General, who had been sent by Roman Emperor Nero himself. This was a time of Roman prowess, and they were truly an unstoppable force. The Christians were against them, and the Romans weren’t going to stop until they were subjugated under Nero. The greed for more land meant they had to take Prasutagus out of the equation, leaving Boudica with her two daughters. After Prasutagus died, Boudica thought she had to take on the responsibilities of the queen, but the Roman Warrior Catus Decianus could not see a woman on the throne. She was left for dead, but thanks to the druids who had remained, she survived, and thus began the tale of a simple woman becoming the Goddess of War, Boudica.
The film is essentially a feminist tale, where the queen was unrecognized by the Romans, and they could not let the matter be. The feminine wrath is a theme running throughout the movie, and there are simple scenes before Prasutagus’ death that show how naive and vulnerable the queen was. Her husband was her sole protector, and she depended on his vision to take action. Simply put, before becoming Boudica, she was a nameless and harmless creature, with her only identity being that of Prasutagus’ wife. The transformation was to be the most important and fascinating part of the movie, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. Once the queen was on her way to become Boudica, she, like King Arthur, had her own sword. It was made of bronze, as opposed to the newly made iron ones. This symbolism, however, wasn’t enough to elevate the transformation. There was a brief sequence with the sword that automatically made her prove that she was Boudica, destined to fight against the Romans. The tribal fighting units accepted her as their queen fairly quickly, giving almost no resistance to the idea of being led by a woman. The rest was done by the voodoo of the sword. The problem is clear: the film seems to believe it has communicated what it has to say before it actually has. The result is that scenes look half baked, and some transitions feel as if the previous scenes have ended up on the edit floor due to the feeling that they were slowing down the narrative.
Rushed is the word for Boudica. In rushing the scene, even perhaps during the time of the shoot, the shots couldn’t be as neatly composed as they could have been. The use of close-ups is not judicious, and there are some scenes where the locations are not palpable. We see whatever Jesse wants us to see, even though the characters could have seen the hidden element. Many directors use this technique, but here it feels off. The timing and the rhythmic progression of the transformation of Boudica were the major parts of the film, and the pacing was off. Olga is not to blame, as the editing is disjointed. One moment into the performance, it seems like there is much to be conquered in the mind, considering she was left for dead and is terrified. The next moment, she has a fierce spirit and is ready to accept being Boudica and save her people. Perhaps the film needed to focus on the chapters of her life a little bit more, so we could understand her progression. The demure queen gets beaten within an inch of her life, and with a little help from the druids, she sheds all inhibition and becomes an unbelievable warrior. Magic? Perhaps.
The film has magical elements in it. Her sword is the proof of it, but explaining her transformation through magic is lazy writing. Apart from that, the dialogues leave nothing to the imagination. Explaining to us that the Romans do not accept any woman to be a ruler in a full rant about the government of Rome was clearly unnecessary, as the disdain and disgust in Nick Moran’s eyes, who played Catus, was enough to communicate the point. The performers have compensated for the bad writing in many portions of the movie, which is an impossible task, but with actors like Olga, Clive Standen, and Nick Moran, one expected a series of scenes written to bring the interpersonal dynamics to life, but that wasn’t the case. When Olga had nothing to do, she indicated a suspicious look with the bulging or squinting of her eyes, while the men in the movie had the body language to play the warriors.
The last twenty minutes or so of the movie are a full battle sequence that assaults the senses and treats silence as the sole enemy of the film. There were slow motion shots used in the beginning of the film where they weren’t as necessary, which is why in the end they lose their impact. Perhaps the film should have tackled just the transformation of the queen into Boudica, and then it would have been forced to build elements from the ground up and find the beats organically. Most of the film’s run time of 100 minutes gets eaten up by the action sequences, which have little room for the emotional quotient.
Boudica’s biggest failure is psychological rather than technical, as the film’s feminist theme is undermined by the delivery of dialogues like ‘That’s my Queen!’, said by an overenthusiastic male subordinate warrior, undermining the gravity of the story. They never seem to come out of respect but rather from the joy of having successfully accomplished the task of turning a demure woman into almost a male warrior who could kill without giving it a second thought. The film tries hard to be a film that is interested in emotional transformation, the strength of character, and the consequence of unbridled feminine rage but is always interested in being a war movie, where the men could shout and kill and the women could slowly lose their humanity as well and be in a position of ‘kill or be killed’.