The Legend of The Soldier Review: Little Drummer Boy

The Legend of the Soldier: On DVD Release From 10th October

For those of us not up on the historical beef between Napoleon’s army and the Catalan rebels in 1808, Legend of the Soldier, paints a vivid picture of the battle of Bruc in which one Spanish drummer boy defeated the invading French army. As important as this legend may be to the Spanish, UK viewers may well be scratching their heads as the story relies on a pre-existing knowledge of the battle, so it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research before watching as much is left unexplained.

In the wake of the battle, a simple coal miner/military drummer boy, Juan (Juan José Ballesta) tries to return to his normal life and his beautiful fiancée Gloria (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). The French’s defeat is bitter for Napoleon who orders brave Captain Maraval (Vincent Perez) to bring back the head of the Spanish drummer. Maraval and a band of soldiers travel to Juan’s small village in the Catalan mountains and slaughter his family and kidnap Gloria in an effort to draw him out.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between the skilled soldiers and the young man whose heroism for his country has endangered the very people he set out to protect. In the shadow of the mountain Monserrat, Juan evades capture while slowly turning into the French’s worst nightmare.

The period setting and historical facts are of little relevance to the core of the story whereas the camerawork stands out, feeling incredibly modern and, at times, visually thrilling. It adds a kinetic energy that isn’t often found in films of this nature but unfortunately this energy comes in odd bursts and disrupts the flow of the film. Regrettably, the characters aren’t much help in keeping things together either as they’re both the weakest and the strongest elements of the film. Maraval, the French Captain, is two-dimensional with simplistic motivation and little depth to him while Juan evolves from a wide-eyed young man to a vengeance filled hunter. The characterisation is uneven but with a running time of just 89 minutes, it’s not surprising to see.

Despite working with a mediocre script, Ballesta’s performance as Juan is especially engaging and his transformation from a fearful, orphaned drummer on the run to a cold-blooded killer is stunning. His love for Gloria is a sweet side-note to the action as Bergès-Frisbey is an appealing love interest who supports Juan as he takes a stand against the Maraval. The supporting cast all do a fine job but have little more to do than swing swords and be picked off one by one as the film progresses.

Legend of the Soldier is an interesting premise told in the easiest, most simplistic way possible. Were this story ever to be told again, it wouldn’t be difficult to make a more appealing film.

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