Pompeii UK PosterConsidering the wealth of cinematic potential in the incredible story of Pompeii, an ancient society preserved to this day in molten lava, it’s something of a surprise to see quite how few filmmakers have dared touch such treasured territory. The disaster has provided us a candid insight into a lost time and culture, and is so ineffable, so cinematic. However Paul W.S. Anderson’s hackneyed effort is completely encumbered by its mawkish romantic narrative, deviating carelessly from the genuinely fascinating aspects of the setting.

The lovers in question are the slave Milo (Kit Harington), and the privileged Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a wealthy merchant. While the former becomes a heroic gladiator and the latter finds herself unwittingly betrothed to the callous Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), they soon realise they have somewhat bigger issues to contend with, as the nearby Mount Vesuvius erupts and the city of Pompeii collapses beneath their very feet.

Part of the problem with this chaotic blockbuster, is that you get no flavour at all for the location, or the culture that existed – which is one of the most intriguing elements of the Pompeii disaster. This tale could almost be set anywhere and the film suffers as a result. The eruption itself is initially breathtaking, as the flickers of ash and the running stream of lava takes up much of the screen, with a orange glaze creating an exhilarating atmosphere. However, once over the initial shock, soon the quite low production quality becomes glaringly obvious, and the clumsily handled 3D is jarring for the viewer, and cheapens the spectacle accordingly.

While entirely absent in narrative structure, unfortunately the acting does little to help proceedings. Though Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje does little to offend as the seemingly infallible gladiator Atticus, the performances are generally below-par, as even Harington, one of the stars of Game of Thrones, struggles to make an impact – while Sutherland’s role as the lead antagonist is laughable on the most part. Though in fairness, the actors are hardly blessed with a strong screenplay to work with. Just as the pace picks up with the eruption of the volcano,the film should start to get more interesting, yet all that transpires are various shots of people running and looking a bit scared.

Pompeii should make for such intriguing cinematic stomping ground, yet it seems the wait to explore this tale triumphantly is going to be put on hold for a little longer, as this leans too far towards a more romantic edge. While it’s only natural to try and find that strand of intimacy amidst the chaos, and find human themes for us to relate to, Anderson’s offering is never quite accessible or empathetic enough, and with a romance we struggle to believe in, it deems this particular project something of a failure.