Film Review: THE FIRST KING: BIRTH OF AN EMPIRE (Il Primo Re) (Italy 2019) ***

Romulus & Remus: The First King Poster
Romulus and Remus, two shepherds and loyal brothers, end up taking part to a journey that will lead one of them to be the founder of the greatest nation ever seen. However, the fate of the chosen one will pass from killing his own brother.


Matteo Rovere


Filippo Gravino (story), Francesca Manieri (story) | 4 more credits »

An Italian re-making of ROMULUS AND REMUS, an early pre-Christianity feature way back when, when films of this genre together with Biblical films were extremely popular.

When the film opens, the audience sees two brothers Romulus and Remus as they tend sheep right before everything is swept away by a tidal wave.  They are captured by a tribe and locked in cages.  After they are others are forced to fight each other in the mud (dirty, brutal and sexy fights) for amusement of the captors, the prisoners escape, only to travel through hard terrain in order to survive.  They also have to fight superstition and sometimes each other to survive.

Why do Romulus and Remus care so much for each other that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for each?  Apparently they have sworn allegiance when they were taken apart as kids from their mother by an attacking tribe.

There is hand-to-hand combat and fighting with ancient weapons like swords, clubs and hammers.  All this allows for a lot of blood-letting such as a spike on the side of the neck letting out gushing blood or a head cracked open.  There is even a half body (a silly looking special effect) seen hanging from a tree.

This is a male oriented film so females beware.  There is only one female in the group surviving the journey.  There is no romance – only macho males fitting each other and showing off their muddy bare bodies.  

It is just one fight after another.  The film gets a bit monotonous in tone though not for lack of trying.  If the men are not fighting other tribes, they are fighting each other.  The lack of humour clearly puts a damper on the entire film.  The founding of Rome is the excuse given for the film to have more clout.  Romulus and Remus are given credit to the founding of Rome hence the subtitle “Birth of an Empire”.

To the film’s credit, THE FIRST KING is beautifully shot.  Most of the action takes place in the country and woods amidst streams and rivers.  The men are not very gruff and sport lots of facial hair.  There has bonnet been a group of uglier actors assembled on display film.  But everyone seems to be in shape.

The film runs a lengthy 2 hours and 5 minutes but it could be cut short and edited for a tighter film.  The action set piece are equal well spread out, so there is not long a dull moment, unless one finds the action boring.  One imagines that this is reason for keeping the fights sufficiently violent.

Yet, THE FIRST KING delivers if one likes films in this genre.

The DVD and Blu-ray are just out October 24th this week.  They come with these bonus features: “Making of” and “Trailer”.  The English version is also available but it is best to watch the film in Italian with subtitles.