Leading the Iceni Peoples in defiance of the Roman Empire; Olga Kurylenko stars in “BOUDICA: QUEEN OF WAR”

Director Jesse V. Johnson has directed action movies that are more than respectable. He understands the advantage of working with skilled stunt teams and performers and knows how to create good action sequences. His films with Scott Adkins are fun, 2009’s “Triple Threat” was a career highlight as it starred some of the best martial artists alive today in dramatic fight sequences. Mostly setting his films in the modern era (save for 2021’s WWII set “Hell Hath No Fury”), Johnson takes on a legendary warrior in his latest effort, “Boudica: Queen of War.”

In A.D. 61, Boudica (Olga Kurylenko) led an uprising against the Roman Empire, after the death of her husband and the Roman’s theft of his land and property. After protesting, Boudica and her two young daughters were flogged and raped, the woman found her power in leading the Iceni and other British tribes in revolt. Johnson’s film is the story of Boudica’s bloody retribution against the Roman empire.

As the film begins, Caesar Augustus Nero’s (Harry Kirton) army, led by Commander Paulinus (Kris Johnson), viciously murders a clan of druids on the island of Mona, another “conquering” victory in Rome’s quest to rule over Europe. Britannia is the final land to steal and is ruled by the King and Queen of the Icini tribe; King Prasutagus (Clive Standen) and his queen, Boudica. When Prasutagus is murdered by the men of Catus Decianus (Nick Moran), he and his men take her and her daughters captive until they are rescued by Cartimanda (Lucy Martin), a Trinovante warrior. Soon after, Boudica embraces her barbarian bloodline and becomes a powerful warrior, uniting the other tribes of the lands, and beginning her rebellion against her Roman invaders.

Except for a few supporting performances that speak and act in too modern a manner, Johnson achieves the requisite period atmosphere. Combining Jonathan Hall’s gritty cinematography and Jaimie Foote’s smoke, fire, and blood-filled production design, “Boudica: Queen of War” finds visual power in its grit and (mostly) natural lighting, with Sean Murray’s powerful score echoing the best of Jerry Goldsmith while paying tribue to Wagner.

The battle scenes are expertly choreographed. While they do not have the grandeur of big-budget Hollywood productions, the narrow framing and intimate combat make them fierce-looking. The steel clashes and the blood flows in some of the finest cinematic combat in some time, with not a shaky-cam moment or splatter of CGI gore in the entire picture.

An intoxicatingly powerful Kurylenko dives headfirst into her portrayal of Boudica, projecting her character’s violent change and emotional chaos with subtle power. Forced from royalty to becoming a leader and warrior, the actress combines so many emotions into just the tone of her voice or the strength written on her brave face. Through Kurylenko’s dedication, the audience is fully aligned with Boudica in her quest for vengeance.

Johnson’s screenplay takes the warrior queen’s lore and adds elements of the supernatural making it punchier. These touches bode well for the film, giving it more life than some of the major studio’s attempts at historical action pictures. Johnson doesn’t waste his foray into the mystical, successfully using it to enhance the emotional pull of his subject. While borrowing from Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”, by the film’s end, the director finds a finale that becomes quite compelling and ultimately moving.

Keeping the film tight, Jesse V. Johnson delivers an engaging and fully entertaining picture. “Boudica: Queen of War” is an adrenaline-fueled cinematic experience and the best film of Johnson’s career.

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