Warrior Queen is a mixture of fact, fiction, mystical humbug, and thinly disguised commentary about the Middle East. This one hour movie, which aired on Masterpiece Theater Sunday October 12th, tells the story of Boudica, the Iceni Queen who led a revolt against Roman rule in 1st Century Britain. Unfortunately it tells it with little respect for historical fact, and incorporates enough Druidic magic into the plot to qualify as a sword and sorcery fantasy.
The story begins with Severus, the Roman ambassador, negotiating a treaty with Boudicaís husband Prasutagus, King of the Iceni. Prasutagus, against the advice of Boudica, agrees to a treaty making the Iceni a Roman client kingdom. Boudica becomes even more opposed to the treaty when Catus, the slimy Roman Procurator, insists that as a Roman client, the Iceni must send slaves to Rome.
Things rapidly go downhill from there. When Catus and a detachment of Roman soldiers are ambushed and robbed by Celtic children (?!) Nero, the emperorís nephew flies into a rage and accuses the Iceni of "harboring terrorists". He urges his dotty old uncle Claudius to "take them all out." Claudius refuses, telling Nero that "There will always be incidents. It is part of the peace process." However, Claudius dies during this conversation, and Nero, now emperor, resolves to conquer the Iceni.
Meanwhile back in Britain, Prasutagus has also died leaving Boudica in charge. When Roman soldiers abduct some Celtic girls to be slaves, Boudica demands their release. Catus has her flogged, and forces her to watch while her daughters are raped. (This scene is not easy to watch.) It is at this point that the movie veers into fantasy. A Druid named Magior works some ancient Celtic magic that causes a sword to come shooting up, hilt first, out of a lake, which he then hands to Boudica and proclaims "Behold Boudica! Queen of the Britons!". Magic is also used in a later battle with Roman troops led by Catus. When Boudica invokes the curse of her gods on the Romans a large Roman statue turns to face Catus and is then sinks into the earth. Whereupon Celtic children spring up out of the earth behind the Roman troops and attack them. (Celtic children also manage to break through a Roman battle line by crawling between the Romanís legs.) Near the end of the movie, Magior even turns a character invisible to enable them to escape.
The movie was shot in Rumania to save money. Even so, Warrior Queen was clearly filmed on a shoestring. But the real problem isnít the low budget, itís Andrew Daviesí script. The frequent use of modern speech, the magical silliness, and the obvious references to the Middle East peace process all work to undermine whatever impact this movie might have had. The idea that Claudius would have dismissed an attack on a Procurator with the words "there will always be incidents" is ridiculous. Roman emperors were not notably tolerant of incidents, especially when they involved attacks on Roman soldiers and Procurators, even slimy ones. In fact, they were even less tolerant than the Israelis, at whom the line is clearly aimed.
The acting is mostly good. Alex Kingston of ER stars as Boudica. Like Boudica herself she does her best in a lost cause. Her performance is the best thing about the movie. Steve John Shepherd, as Catus, looks, and acts, like the Master from the old Doctor Who show. Angus Wright, who plays Severus, bears a passing resemblance to Tony Blair.
Ultimately, Warrior Queen isnít really about the 1st century Celts or Romans, itís about 21st Century politically correct characters in an imaginary ancient world. It is available on DVD. So is Xena: Warrior Princess, which is more historically accurate, and a lot more entertaining.