I approached this with a deep cynicism as I had read the shooting script beforehand. I was, however, delightfully surprised to see the beautiful artistic images of the eagle melting on the funeral pyre.
I wish they had ended the film there.
To have Marcus and Esca walking towards Hadrian's Wall arguing about farming and horse breeding turned the ending into comical - almost slapstick. As my friend said, all that was missing was Marcus shoving Esca down the hill.
Given the option, I prefer the theatrical release ending. It found it a lot more satisfying to have Marcus rejecting Rome and her politicians.