‘Attila’ the Hunk Looks Good, Says Little of Actual History
“Attila,” a two-part, four-hour drama airing tonight and Wednesday on USA, is hardly a Hunney of a show, but it’s worth a look if you’re in the mood for swords, slashing and spectacle.
Partly reminiscent of historical sagas such as “Braveheart” and “Gladiator,” this romanticized, handsomely assembled costumer is short on history and long on skulduggery, the sort that takes place between battling brothers and lethal leaders.
The title role is fleshed out by Gerard Butler as the tough Hunk who challenged Rome for supremacy in the Old World. Smart, savvy and fearless, Attila clashes with his brooding brother Bleda (Tommy Flanagan) and forges an alliance with Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe), a deceitful schemer who makes his power play after being freed from prison by the icy Placidia (Alice Krige), whose immature, idiotic son (Reg Rogers) is woefully unprepared to vanquish the enemy.
And what would a sibling rivalry be without two men pursuing the same woman? In this case, it’s the courageous slave N’Kara (Simmone Jade Mackinnon), spared by Attila after an attack on her village. Another supporting character is Galen (Pauline Lynch), a soothsayer who “reads the stars and sky,” envisioning Attila as their king and savior. Hey, it beats Tarot cards.
During one stretch, Attila is drawn to Placidia’s daring daughter (Kirsty Mitchell), a pragmatic beauty who realizes the futility of impressing testosterone-driven males with her intelligence, thereby leaving the throne to her babbling brother.
Robert Cochran’s teleplay follows a familiar and predictable arc that may not compare favorably with the aforementioned big-screen epics, yet the pillaging and plundering flow freely and the crisply photographed scenarios are seldom dull. As director, Dick Lowry deftly deploys his cast of warriors, mounting the battle scenes with verve and precision.
Boothe and Krige are good, with the former in fine form as the calculating Roman commander, and the latter shading her character with a chilly dimension that is on point. Butler, meanwhile, holds his own as a barbarian who would make Conan proud, though one somehow suspects he’s better-looking than the original.
* Part 1 of “Attila” can be seen tonight at 9 p.m. on USA, with the conclusion airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. The network has rated it TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for violence).