YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Cover Story

Trading Her Scalpel for a Warrior's Sword

'ER's' Alex Kingston stars on PBS as Boudica, a 1st century Celtic queen who led a rebellion against the Romans.

October 12, 2003|Jacqueline Cutler | Special to The Times

Alex Kingston sheds her "ER" coat and cool image for rough-hewn garments and controlled fury as Boudica, a 1st century Celtic heroine, in PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre: Warrior Queen."

"I have to say I came out of this feeling extremely strong," Kingston says. "I have done this; now I can do anything. It was really nice to do something other than Elizabeth Corday to remind people that I am versatile."

As she leads a ragtag army to war against the marauding Romans, wielding a sword, shooting arrows and alternately riding wild horses and a chariot that makes the "Ben Hur" models look like SUVs, Kingston proves she indeed is versatile.

"The Celtic chariot has the most incredible suspension system," she says. "You are standing on woven leather on a floating platform. You had an amazingly smooth ride over this bumpy ground. It was fast. It was a bit scary. They had rather wild horses. I used to go back to the hotel at the end of the day just being glad that I was alive. In the end, they had to get new horses because they were so spooked."

The movie, shot in the Romanian countryside, was supposed to be made during her "ER" hiatus but wound up shooting later, so Kingston commuted between Romania and Los Angeles. "It was unbearably cold. There were quite a few cases of hypothermia, and there was no opportunity for thermals. Our bare feet were wrapped in rags." But she also notes that "I loved all the dirt. I am so much happier not having to feel the pressure of trying to look pretty."

The sole problem with this exquisite production is that, at 90 minutes, it is too short to tell the fascinating story of the ancient Celt. Little is known of Boudica other than Tacitus' and Cassius Dio's accounts. Boudica, also known as Boadicea, was queen of the Icenis, who lived where England's Norfolk and Suffolk counties are now.

She was happy with her king, Prasutagus (Steven Waddington), and their two daughters. Although he is willing to give the Romans what they want -- only the best of everything they have -- she is not. When her husband dies, she deals with the Romans, who are annoyed with this bodacious woman. As Roman nobility, they treat her like dirt.

Sensitive viewers should know this is a movie about war, so even though PBS maintains its standards and nothing is overly gory, there is plenty of carnage. The U.S. version has been sanitized to excise the incest between Nero and his mother. And the less seen of Nero (Michael Feast) swallowing scenery whole, the better.

The Romans try to teach Boudica a lesson by flogging her and raping her daughters in front of her. Afterward, Boudica becomes more determined to fight, and she coalesces warring tribes. She leads them into battle and certain death.

Kingston seems born to this role, flexing toned arms and a steely spirit. "I wanted her to look strong," Kingston says, referring to her more muscular physique. "If I am going to be a size 1, I am not going to be believable as a fighting warrior. I actually thought when I was offered the role -- not to sound my own trumpet -- that I have got a sort of female strength."

That same strength is captured in a statue of Boudica and her daughter across from the Houses of Parliament, which is shown at the end. The movie celebrates Boudica's courage and legacy. "I think it's a fantastic story. And knowing that it's a true story -- I find that incredible, really -- and all the more so that it is a woman that the story is about."

Jacqueline Cutler writes for Tribune Media Services.

"Masterpiece Theater: Warrior Queen" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on KCET. It is rated TV14-SV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for sexual situations and violence).

Los Angeles Times Articles