US, 2001, 177 minutes, Colour.
Gerard Butler, Powers Boothe, Simmone Mackinnon, Reg Rogers, Alice Krige, Tim Curry, Jonathan Hyde, Steven Berkoff.
Directed by Dick Lowry.
Attila is a television movie about the famous leader of the Huns. It was produced in the atmosphere of the success of Gladiator (and in fact, in pirated editions in Malaysia, straight off the US Channel USA, it is called Gladiator 2). It is full of battles, scenes of Barbarian villages as well as scenes in Rome – all rather familiar, but enjoyable to see them.
Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000, Dear Frankie, The Phantom of the Opera) is a brawny Attila. There is a great number of British stars in small roles of support. The Roman Empire is represented by Powers Booth as Flavius, the general, and by a sinister Alice Krige as the emperor’s mother.
The film does give a focus on Attila, not just simply as the leader of the Barbarians and to be seen as enemy from the point of view of Rome. We see his childhood, his standing up to enemies, his being favoured by soothsayers in the kingdom, his rivalry with his brother, his desire to conquer, even Rome. However, the Roman General Flavius invites him to fight the Visigoths with him. Eventually, with complications in the Eastern Empire (with Tim Currie as the emperor), Attila then conquers the West, as far as Orleans in Gaul. However, he is poisoned by a slave girl whose family were killed in one of his invasions and who reminds him of his first wife. When the Roman general returns to Rome, he is ungratefully assassinated by the emperor.
A chance to get a bit of background, however television movie series style, of this aspect of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1. Audience knowledge of Attila, the Huns? The Barbarians, the decline of the Roman Empire? The collaboration between the falling empire and the Barbarians?
2. Attila as a boy, his father’s death, his being asked to kneel, his getting the arrow and plunging it in the enemy’s leg, taking the horse, being pursued? His being welcomed by the chieftain? His uncle? His growing up, his friendship with the prophetic girl, her seeing him in visions? His transformation into a young man, the rivalry with his older brother?
3. The location photography, north-eastern Europe, Rome, Constantinople? The special effects, the battles and action, editing and pace? The musical score?
4. The portrait of Attila as a warrior, his training, rivalry with his brother, conquering the villages, sparing Incara, love for her? His ambitions to attack Rome? The visit of Flavius, the fight against the Visigoths? His going to Rome? His spreading to the Eastern Empire, the fear of Constantinople? His going towards the west, into Gaul? His taking Orleans, his having to retreat? The sinister behaviour of his brother, murdering their uncle, his defying his brother, stopping the coronation, fighting the duel to the death? His further conquests, his wanting to marry the new slave girl, reminding him of his wife, her poisoning him in vengeance? His lying in state, the heritage of Attila? (And the omission in this version of Pope Leo the Great stopping Attila from invading Rome.)
5. Flavius, in prison, his being freed by the mother of the empress, her conditions, wanting him to get rid of Attila? His being freed, his property restored? His foster daughter, and having taken her from the Visigoth king? His battles, his visiting the Huns, the negotiations with Attila, Attila’s going to Rome with him? His further ambitions, defeating the Visigoths? Killing the Visigoth king and spurring the Huns into action? The Visigoths leaving, the confrontation with the heir? His return to Rome, the murder of Attila? His own reception into Rome, the emperor giving him the laurel, stabbing him to death? The parallel between his career and that of Attila and their deaths?
6. The Huns, the uncle, warrior leader, favouring the two sons, favouring Attila? The son, the older brother, coronation, murdering the uncle, the fight to the death? The loyal general? Life in the Hun village, the slave girls, the wives? The prophet and her love for Attila? The duel with the brother and her feeling the arrows, her death? Incara, her getting to love Attila? The new slave, Attila in love with her, her changing, becoming empress, his mistaking her name for Incara, her killing him? The loyal general slitting her throat? Life in the Barbarian villages?
7. The contrast with Rome, the palaces, the leaders, the emperor, his wilfulness, antagonism towards his mother? His mother and her power, sinister, vindictive?
8. The role of the Barbarians, their expanding empires, incursions into the Roman Empire, the Romans not stopping them? The eventual takeover of the empire?
9. The decline of the Roman Empire, internal squabbles, lacking military strength, intrigues, the partnership with the Eastern Empire and the betrayals? The wilful Eastern Emperor, his assassins, the attempt to kill Attila and Attila letting the assassin go because of his obedience to his master? The rejoicing in Attila’s death? The survival of the Eastern Empire, the destruction of the West?