Boudica (2023) Review
Writer/director Jesse V. Johnson (Avengement, Savage Dog) opens his latest film, Boudica, on an impressive note. Roman soldiers march through a dark, fog-enshrouded, forest. It’s creepy and ominous as if something unseen is waiting for them. And there is, a group of Druids who kneel, chanting in a clearing. The warrior goddess they hoped to summon doesn’t save them and the legion graphically slaughters them.
Meanwhile, in Britania’s Icini Province, Prasutagus (Clive Standen, Vikings, Vendetta) rules alongside his queen, Boudica (Olga Kurylenko, The Princess, High Heat). Despite having to deal with the Roman occupiers life is good for them and their daughters Bre (Lilibet Butanaseva) and Aife (Litiana Butanaseva, On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World), The Bay of Silence, The Wheel of Time, Kiddyzuzaa).
That is until Prasutagus is betrayed and murdered and Roman procurator Catus Decianus (Nick Moran, Hunted, Eat Locals) and his troops interrupt her coronation and take her and her daughters captive. Rescued by Trinovante warrior Cartimanda (Lucy Martin, The Seed, Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher) she’ll have to reclaim her own barbarian heritage to bring the tribes together and lead an uprising against the invaders.
Johnson has referred to Boudica as his passion project and he wrestled with the script on and off for two decades until working with Kurylenko on White Elephant gave him the inspiration he needed to finish it. You can feel his enthusiasm for the character and the project as you watch it. I don’t think I’ve seen him put as much effort into developing a character and their backstory as he does here.
I realized I had met an actor who could play the two “halves” of Boudica: Mother, Queen and wife but also, a Warrior Chief, scarred by her past and driven by a delirious desire for revenge. The solution to writing the second act was the result of working with Olga.Jesse V. Johnson
That makes the revenge-driven plot, and Boudica’s character arc feel much more satisfying. And for those who want to quibble about the historical accuracy of that arc, the opening card says the film was “Inspired by” accounts from 60 A.D. That’s the equivalent of seeing “Based on true events” at the start of a horror film, so you shouldn’t be expecting a history lesson.
Speaking of which, while this doesn’t go off into sword and sorcery territory, it is based on legends. This means there is a mystical sword and the occasional ghost turns up to help separate it from more straightforward historical action films. I thought it added a nice touch to the story with the exception of one scene with the sword just before Boudica’s return match with Catus. You’ll know it when you see it and like me may end up fighting to resist shouting “Use the Force!” at the screen.
The fighting that follows that however is nothing to laugh at. While small scale, it’s an ambush not a full-fledged battle, it is fierce and quite bloody. Johnson is known for his action scenes and along with stunt coordinator Dan Styles (A Violent Man, One Shot) he makes sure the ones we get here don’t disappoint. The film’s final half-hour is a series of bloody battles as Boudica, with some help from the initially skeptical Wolfgar (Peter Franzen, Priest of Evil, Black Lotus) takes the fight to the Romans.
I actually wish the film had run a bit longer to allow some context between them, rather than just a few words followed by a title card announcing the next one. But It’s obvious Boudica was filmed on a limited budget and some compromises had to be made. The budget also means the CGI used to recreate Rome leaves a lot to be desired.
The cast does well though, for the most part, the roles tax their physical performance more than their emotional skills. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize a familiar face from Johnson’s previous films, Dominique Vandenberg (Pit Fighter, The Mercenary) as Wolfgar’s bodyguard and veteran British actress Rita Tushingham (Straight on Till Morning, Last Night in Soho) as a druid.
Despite its problems, Boudica is a solid film that delivers more than expected for a film of its budget. Johnson does his passion and muse proud with a strong plot and stronger action. General action, as well as sword and sandal fans should enjoy the results.
Saban Films will release Boudica to Digital Platforms in the US on October 27th. In the UK, Signature Entertainment will make it available on October 30th.