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Series / Attila

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Attila is a 2001 Mini Series biopic dramatization of the life of Attila the Hun, played by Gerard Butler.

Near the end of The Roman Empire, huge population movements have led to barbarian tribes settling in traditional Roman territories in advance of the Huns, a nomadic people from the steppes in the east. Attila, the orphaned son of a horselord taken in by his uncle, takes over command of all the tribes and challenges the Romans, led by the brilliant general Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe).

This miniseries provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Marcus Maecilius Avitus, the senator (later Emperor) who was influential in securing the Roman-Visigoth alliance that defeated Attila in Gaul. The film also, rather curiously, omits Attila's final campaign in Italy denying a proper showdown between him and Aetius (and on that note, Pope Leo I is omitted from the film too). There is also no mention of Aetius having a son.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Galen admits to N'Kara that she loves Attila, but that he must never know.
  • All There in the Manual: Flavius Aetius serving as The Starscream to Galla Placidia is surprisinglynote  Truth in Television. This was because of the power vacuum created when Placidia's brother Honorius died. Aetius supported Legate Joannes, a military commander who was not part of the Theodosian dynasty, instead of Placidia and her incompetent son. Placidia never forgave him for this, and attempted to replace him with Count Bonifacius, the governor of the African colonies. Aetius challenged Bonifacius at the Battle of Ravenna, with his defeat leading to his exile (the film depicts it as an imprisonment instead).
  • Anachronism Stew: During their battles with the Huns and various Germanic tribes, the Roman armies are wearing armor that is roughly three centuries out of date.
  • Artistic License History:
    • By the time Valentinian assassinated Aetius, Attila had already been dead for a year. And Placidia had been dead for four.
    • Theodosius is also depicted as being highly amused after receiving a report on Attila's death, but he had actually already been dead for three years himself at that point.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Attila personally foils an attempt on his life by an Eastern Roman assassin who managed to slip past his bodyguards. Unfortunately, he's not so lucky in foiling Aetius' more complex scheme to have him killed.
  • Blood Knight: A standard depiction of Attila and this one doesn't disappoint.
    Attila: I thought that the War God had refused me a sign, but I was wrong. What better sign than an enemy prepared to fight?
  • Cast from Hit Points: Galen uses her magic to keep Attila alive long enough to kill Bleda. This results in her dying from the injuries Attila sustains in the duel.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Galen.
  • Composite Character: Placidia, sort of. In Real Life, she did retire as Regent when Valentinian turned 18, and simply became one of many consiglieri to her son. That said, compressing these consiglieri into a single character did keep the cast from getting too big.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Bleda, Attila's traitorous adoptive brother, is dispatched about a third of the way in.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When Attila calls out Aetius over faking the Pretext for War the latter just points out Attila went about it the wrong way. He should have acted puzzled as to why the wounds of the tortured man hadn't bled (because they'd been inflicted after death) so Attila's chief could come up with the idea himself and thus take credit for being clever.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Attila will become king, build an empire, invade the Roman Empire and be defeated by the Romans and Germans in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains before dying in mysterious circumstances, leading to the collapse of the Huns.
  • Four-Star Badass: Flavius Aetius.
  • God-Emperor: The halfwitted Emperor Valentinian is shown to regard himself as a god, a notion that Flavius Aetius later sarcastically mocks while manipulating the Emperor. In fact, the Roman Empire was strongly Christian by this point in history, which the film itself portrays.
  • Heir Club for Men: Emperor Valentinian sits on the Roman throne despite being something of a halfwit controlled by an Evil Matriarch. His much brighter sister Honoria laments the fact that she can't rule because she's a woman and later attempts to overthrow him in a failed plot.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Attila's first wife N'Kara was a redhead. Flavius Aetius uses this to his advantage when he recruits Ildico, a Roman woman lusting for vengeance against the Huns who resembles Attila's late wife, to make Attila fall in love with her, providing a perfect opportunity to assassinate him.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Like Race Lift, this is a bit contentious in regards to the main character as no reliable description of Attila's real life appearance has survived. However he's usually described as short and stocky, whereas Gerard Butler is tall and handsome. Whether or not this is Roman propaganda or an accurate description of what the warlord looked like is unknown.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: King Theodoric I. He normally has a heroic reputation in Western historiography, even serving as the Real Life inspiration for King Theoden from The Lord of the Rings. Here, he is a bit of a Jerkass. Placidia could qualify, see the Composite Character entry.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Aetius says this to a guard who spat in his food while he was a disgraced prisoner. Subverted because he's just setting him up to be killed later.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: After Honoria conspires to usurp her brother Valentinian as ruler of Rome, he sends her away to a puritanical Christian convent in the Eastern Roman Empire. She tries to get out of there by promising Attila half the Roman Empire as dowry if he marries her, which is just the pretext that he had been waiting for.
  • The Lost Lenore: N'Kara is this to Attila. Flavius Aetius and King Theodoric are also widowed...from the same woman, which provides considerable tension between the two men.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Attila ends up falling in love with a woman who resembles his late wifenote . However, she's an assassin sent by Flavius Aetius to seduce and marry Attila so he will let his guard down at a critical moment. She succeeds with the plot by killing him on their wedding night at the cost of her own life, which she had accepted beforehand.
  • The Needs of the Many: Desperately needing an alliance with the Visigoths to take on Atilla and his Huns, Flavius Aetius agrees to have his Roman-raised daughter, who was sired by King Theodoric (both Aetius and Theodoric were once married to the same late woman), handed over to the Visigoths. Aetius looks dead inside when it happens, and he ensures that Theodoric is killed in the course of the battle in retaliation.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds: Aetius presents a Hun body to Attila's uncle covered in torture wounds in order to get him to ally with Rome against another tribe that he Aetius alleges tortured the man to death. Attila points out that the wounds look too fresh to have been the cause of death and were probably inflicted by Aetius himself later.
  • Personal Seals: When Flavius Aetius is restored to power by the mother of the Emperor, he insists she give him her seal to let others know that he's acting on her authority and is not still in disgrace. He then arranges for an assassin to kill the Emperor, using the seal to convince the assassin that she's arranged it, and even giving him the seal as a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card in case he's captured. Aetius then kills the assassin just as he's about to strike, earning the Emperor's gratitude and sowing distrust when he finds his mother's seal on the assassin's body.
  • Pretext for War: This is discussed several times. Flavius Aetius presents the young Attila's chief with one of his men who has been tortured as a pretext for taking on a rival tribe. Attila accuses Flavius of having inflicted the torture marks himself as they've been done post-mortem. Later after the chief dies, Flavius warns Attila that he needs a pretext before returning home to take on a rival, so Attila accuses him of murdering the previous ruler. After Attila creates the Hunnic Empire, he uses an earlier offer of marriage by the sister of the Roman Emperor (and half their empire as dowry) to invade their territory.
  • The Queen's Latin: Aside from Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe), a fair number of the Roman characters are played by Brits.
  • Race Lift: It is a bit unclear what the historical Attila the Hun looked like in real life, but a nomadic warlord from the Eurasian steppes probably didn't resemble the blue-eyed northern European Gerard Butler too much.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Placidia and Theodosius died in 450, so they would not have been able to celebrate Attila's death or take part in the assassination of Aetius.
  • The Starscream: Flavius Aetius is this to Galla Placidia, going so far as to frame her for an assassination attempt on Valentinian in a bid to steal her role as The Man Behind the Man. As mentioned above, Honoria is also this to her brother. The ensuing Gambit Pileup results comes back to bite them both.
  • Straight for the Commander: Both Emperor Theodosius of the Eastern Empire and Flavius Aetius hatch together different schemes to assassinate Attila so they won't have to fight his army in the field. Theodosius' attempt fails miserably when Attila takes down his assassin's direct attempt on his life, but Aetius' more insidious plot by sending a Love-Interest Traitor after Attila ultimately ends in the death of the Hunnic King.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Attila's first experience with a hot Roman bath occurs when the emperor's envious sister Honoria takes him to one in order to seduce him.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Flavius Aetius knows that he is given a lease on life by the ruling dynasty in Rome because they need him to fight their current enemies. So in order to make himself irreplaceable, he purposefully makes such an impression on the young Attila that he can argue to the emperor that Attila won't invade the Western Empire because he fears Aetius. Placidia points out how awfully convenient it is that Aetius' good health has become so important to them now.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Western Roman Empire is terminal decline, and the Huns, Visigoths, and even the Byzantines (Eastern Empire) are taking full advantage of its sick man status. Aetius is trying to fix the problems, but he is Doomed By History.
  • We Can Rule Together: Aetius thinks Attila could make Rome strong again, but Attila will have none of it. As Attila's Hunnic Empire starts to gain momentum, he makes this offer to Aetius, but Aetius refuses to betray his empire.
  • Woman Scorned: By the time Ildico marries Attila, she has fallen in love with him and is reluctant to carry out her orders to assassinate him. As she readies to spike his wine glass with poison, she hesitates, and for a minute, it looks like she won't do it. But then Attila drunkenly calls her N'Kara. Perceiving that she is nothing more than a Replacement Goldfish, she decides to carry out her original orders after all.
  • Worthy Opponent: Aetius and Attila respect each other's abilities as military leaders. Averted between Valentinian and Honoria. He's upset that his sister would try to overthrow him, and downright insulted that her key ally is...a butler. He almost can't get the word out.
  • Wounded Gazelle Warcry: A royal Roman lady gets imprisoned in a monastery. Wanting to flee this fate, she sends a letter to Attila the Hun, who gladly acts like he's under The Dulcinea Effect and invades the Roman empire for her sake. Attila and the lady are both portrayed as down-to-earth politicians who know exactly what they are doing. She needs freedom, he needs an excuse to invade the Empire, and they could both use the good PR of an epic romantic tale for the masses to admire.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Valentinian and Placidia note  pull this on Flavius Aetius after he has defeated Attila, killing him on the basis that he's no longer useful to them. According to the end narration, it solidified their power but eliminating someone as competent as Aetius contributed to the Empire's final demise.note