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The Eagle [Blu-ray]
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on 5 September 2011
I had some hopes for this film, which purports to dramatise Rosemary Sutcliff's classic children's novel 'The Eagle of the Ninth' about a wounded Roman officer who infiltrates the tribes beyond Hadrian's Wall with the aid of his freed British slave in order to locate the lost Eagle standard of his father's legion. The first half hour was fairly gripping, with great attention to historical detail although clearly influenced by 'Gladiator' rather than the book. From there, it rapidly descended into farce as our hero elected to cross the badly depicted Wall without learning the Celtic language, establishing his cover (travelling oculist) or freeing his slave. The journey jumps straight from the brief track beyond the Wall gate (nonsense) to the West Highlands, where sealskin clad savages with stone weapons still hold sway (nonsense). The plot has essentially ceased to bear any resemblance to Sutcliff's book or historical reality. The latter part of the film is a cold, wet chase through the Highlands during which our hero finally decides to free his slave & fights his way out of trouble with the self-redeeming aid of legionary deserters gone native. I saw the film in the cinema with a couple of expert friends, & its screening was attended by muffled exclamations of 'oh Jesus!' & occasional snorts of laughter as each new howler made its appearance. If you have any interest in either Sutcliff's book or historical accuracy, avoid this film like the plague. Unless you fancy a laugh...
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on 7 August 2015
As that discriminating critic Nigel Molesworth would have remarked, Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels are GURLS' books. I'm told that broad-minded boys have enjoyed them too over the years, but I have to say that the only Eagle my husband ever read was the comic with Roy of the Rovers in it. 'The Eagle of the Ninth' was my first Sutcliff story. Catherine at school told me I'd like it in 1962 (we were twelve) and I did. But the recent film seems to be aimed at boys - and not clever boys either. You're not interested in how those people lived (apart from stuff soldiers did in a fort)? You don't want any gurl in it, or even a bit with a dog? Fine.

And this piece of Summer holiday fodder - why not make a new story up instead of travestying a good one? - has been barded with a heavy modern subtext. For Rome, read America. Actually Alan Garner did play with that idea forty years ago in his strange, triple-layered novel Red Shift, in which four damaged 'vets', survivors of a catastrophic battle, try to go native in the Peak District. 'Sir, if we're the Ninth I have to report we're under strength.' But even Garner's sweet lost psycho (the only eventual survivor) is not as naive as Marcus in this film.

Yes, the early American republic did adopt the Roman eagle and the Senate house (and triple names, at least for the wives) and, yes, America has often taken an interventionist role abroad since the Great War - sometimes appreciated, sometimes ill-advised and sometimes for less altruistic reasons than advertised - but can you really compare America's (on the whole) well-intentioned blundering about on the world stage with Julius Caesar's naked opportunism?

When I was first devouring The Eagle of the Ninth under the covers with a torch I was also struggling through gobbets of 'De Bello Gallico' at school. Julius sacks the city of Alesia in Gaul (nothing like anything we'd call a city today) and congratulates himself on tens of thousands killed or shipped off to slavery. He might even be exaggerating the numbers and he certainly isn't ashamed. Any Roman soldier to whom it came as shocking news that his army wasn't kind to the defeated opposition must have been living in a strange little world of his own.
'The troops slaughtered my father and big brother, raped my mother and sister and we were all herded down like cattle from Alesia to Rome and sold in the slave markets.'

Another historical howler is those Seal People, got up like Apache ghosts. Another reviewer has amusingly wondered about these warriors, posturing more-or-less in the nip in a part of the world where what you get is rain and haar and terrible biting frost or (in the brief window of clement weather) terrible biting midges. I suggested to him that their elaborate white warpaint might be Sudocrem. Yes, there is evidence of people in Britain living as hunter-gatherers - but that was before the last great ice age scoured all life out of the North, tens of thousands of BC before Romans trod the earth. Any people delving and spinning a life for themselves in Marcus's time between The Wall and Ultima Thule, and speaking 'Celtic', would have been crofters with clothes on. But I bet they wouldn't have been talking any sort of Celtic that Esca of the Belgae could understand or interpret. Our long thin island, even after the invention of radio & TV, is home to many forms of English that bemuse travellers who think they have spoken English all their lives. When I was a little girl those 'dialects' had far more claim to be different languages than Swedish and Danish, or Spanish and Portuguese.

Actually the 'Picts' (Roman soldiers' word for painted people, cognate with 'picture') probably didn't speak a Celtic language. Welsh Celtic (Brythonic) had begun to move North just before Marcus's time from the Continent as a result of 'elite dominance'. Irish Celtic (Gaelic) moved in from the West after the Romans went home - but the people beyond the Wall (trust me if you have never been to Britain: there is an awful lot of Britain beyond the Wall) had their own language which remains in fragmentary inscriptions on some standing stones but has never been deciphered.

Reviews have remarked on the film's suggestion of homoeroticism. I have to say it's rather more subdued than in the book as I remember it, but you have to allow for the imagination of a twelve-year-old girl. Rosemary Sutcliff knew what slavery might involve (young Berec, in another of her Roman British novels, finds out as I remember) and her books are honest within the constraints of writing for young people.

I really was disappointed that the lead characters were nothing like I had imagined, even to look at. In the book Marcus is typically Italian - you must imagine one of the dark slim boys that smilingly weave round you on a Vespa when you are trying to cross a big road in Rome, feeling in your pocket for a rosary and wishing you had made a will. For big fair Esca you will have to go to the Capitoline Museum and find the statue of The Dying Gaul. In the film Mr Tatum, as Marcus, looks the perfect American recruiting-poster. His neck is the same width all the way down from his head to his shoulders and his body is like a good quality Chesterfield sofa. Mr Bell, as Esca, looks as if any passing wind might catch him up by his translucent pink ears. It's as if they are in the line-up for Best In Show: perfectly trained and exquisitely groomed, but completely different breeds. Esca shouldn't be a handbag dog and Marcus shouldn't be a hippo.

Rosemary Sutcliff's novel was an entrancing and romantic introduction to Roman-occupied Britain for a young girl half a century ago and (given what was then known) it wasn't that inaccurate either. Can't say the same for the film.
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on 4 June 2011
I have never given a five star review before, but then I've never seen a film at the cinema more than once. I saw this five times and paying for an US import I love it so much.

On the surface the story is a classic quest tale for the lost Eagle Standard of the lost Legion IX. The real story however [and Marcus' character arch] is Aquila's search to discover his father's fate and atonement with the memory of his father.

Kevin MacDonald has made a very clever film that incorporates little known details about the Roman period [enslavement of Romans after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest for one.] The cinematography is stunning. To me, it is the film that Jim Henson never got to make [not surprising as Duncan Kenworthy was trained how to make a film on The Dark Crystal.] A potential cult classic in my view.

All the actors were fantastic. This is not the Channing Tatum of Step-Up or She's the Man, but of A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and Stop-Loss. Jamie Bell does a brilliant cruel turn as Esca, and had me convinced he had betrayed Marcus. Of course, Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong can never do no wrong.

People will criticise the film for changing the plot of the book. Cottia is there in Games scene, but I suspect that a relationship between a 26 year old Marcus and a 12 year old girl would cause an uproar amongst modern audiences, no matter how historically accurate. As for Cub's absence, it would have been far too Disney [but if you re-read the book you will realize that Esca takes on the role of choosing to return to Marcus, instead of returning to the wild. I was pleased that they changed the chase scene, as the book ends with Marcus and Esca fleeing back to Hardian's Wall with only the slightest scuffle. It was as though Sutcliff was afraid to put Marcus into a suitation of danger and conflict, where MacDonald has Marcus looking failure direct in the face.


The DVD [which I imported from the US] also contains two deleted scenes [Marcus' chariot race with Cradoc - which is amazing - and an extended Boar Hunt scene]; alternative ending which struggles between being artistically beautiful to descending into a comedic duo walking off into the sunset]; The Making of a Roman Epic Documentary and a fascinating commentary by Kevin MacDonald]
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on 2 October 2012
I have not read Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel, "The Eagle of the Ninth" but I cannot believe that it is any way as bad as this film.
Masquerading as an historical epic, this is little more than a "Western" with togas. A wounded veteran returns from the war; teams up with unlikely side-kick, who happens to speak the native lingo; heads out on horseback on a quest into the badlands. Even the northern tribes of Britain are depicted as pseudo-native Americans, complete with Mohican haircuts; loping through the forest with tomahawk in one hand and spear in the other.
This is poor stuff, badly researched, sloppily portrayed and the final scene which I can only describe as straight from Hollywood, as we watch the main protagonists march off into the sunset, is laughable. Give this one a miss.
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on 4 March 2012
In the early part of the second century AD Legio IX Hispana, a military unit of almost 5,000 men, marched north from its base in Roman Britain to deal with a threatening concentration of hostile tribesmen and was never seen or heard from again. That, at least, is the story, and it's strengthened by the fact that the Ninth was seen as an "unlucky" legion: it had almost been wiped out in Boudica's rebellion and though it was re-formed it was believed to be ill-omened. For such a practical and hard-headed people, the Romans were surprisingly superstitious.

Historians do not agree on what actually happened to the Ninth Legion, whether it was destroyed in this or another campaign, or even if its disappearance was purely administrative. Like any other army, the Roman one was subject to reorganisations in which units were amalgamated or disbanded. An "unlucky" legion could be conveniently removed from the army lists in such a review. But that would not make a good adventure story.

Rosemary Sutcliff's classic historical novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" is based on the "disappeared in Caledonia" scenario and tells of a secret mission to try to recover the legion's eagle standard. For Romans the standard was the soul of the legion, to lose it to a foe was to dishonour not just the unit but Rome herself, and sustained attempts were made to recover those that fell into enemy hands. Sutcliff gives the story a person twist by having the mission led by the son of a senior officer of the Ninth, who has a personal as well as professional interest in finding out what happened and in recovering the standard.

The film, based on Sutcliff's novel, starts promisingly. Roman army experience, in barracks and in combat, is rendered much more accurately than is usual in historical films, as is life in Roman Britain, which was not all marble and togas. But when the action moves north of Hadrian's Wall things take a turn for the worse.

Sutcliff wrote the story of a covert mission with a suitable cover story to allow the team to operate in hostile territory. It featured tension, developing relationships, insights into tribal life and culture, a suspenseful theft/recovery of the lost standard, and an exciting chase. I know that a book needs some changes when made into a film, to tighten things up and make sure they work on-screen, but the film makers here go too far. We have an ill-prepared mission with an approach that quickly should have got the heroes killed in those gorgeously-photographed mountains and glens. Somehow they succeed against the odds in taking the eagle while the story unsubtle points about the nature of slavery, and then they wins through in a rather unconvincing manner. It's exciting, yes, and well done, but it's all rather generic.

Some aspects of it are downright distracting. The Seal People, who play a key part in the story, were so called for their totem animal. There was no need for the warriors to go around all the time with extensive and very modern makeup presumably meant to resemble sealskin. It actually made them look more like the Nav'i of "Avatar". And having the British Celts, both north and south, speak Gaelic? Please. That language's arrival and spread was far in the future, and it was never as extensive as suggested here. Gaelic was the tongue of Ireland, the Picts and the other British Celts spoke another, significantly different Celtic language whose surviving descendant is Welsh. If a feel of authenticity was wanted, it could have been used. And the final scene of the film is a disappointment - rushed, unconvincing, and nothing like the thoughtful closing in the book. Why on earth was that not used?

Don't get me wrong, "The Eagle" is not actually a bad film. It's an exciting historical action drama, well rooted (at least at the start) in its time and place, and definitely better than, for instance, "Centurion". But it's not "The Eagle of the Ninth" and in the end it's nothing special. That's the sad thing -if the makers hadn't jettisoned the Sutcliff story so completely, it could have been. The chance to produce a memorable film was missed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 August 2013
This is an adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel of the mysterious disappearance of Rome's ninth legion north of Hadrian's Wall. I have not seen similar films based on the same premiss about the lost ninth legion in Roman Britain, such as `Centurion' (2010), and (less so) `The Last Legion' (2007), but `The Eagle' is certainly not as "hideously violent" as the former.

It's a fine yarn, told relatively well, based around the relationship between ex-military commander Marcus (Channing Tatum) and the slave he saves from death in a gladiatorial contest, Esca (Jamie Bell). (Surprisingly, the director admits to not knowing why Marcus saves Esca: perhaps there was some homo-erotic subtext?) Together they form a team that goes north of Hadrian's Wall to try and locate and bring back the eagle-standard of the lost legion that had been led by Marcus's father at the time of its disappearance.

I am glad to say that attention was maintained by this reviewer and his partner throughout the film, and the actors give committed performances. This is certainly not a bad film. There is a problem, though, with the last fight: suddenly, there appear to be twice as many old legionaries as turned up five minutes before. And for a man as truly exhausted at the end as Marcus must have been, one wonders whence he obtained his energy for the final fight, and equally, whence he obtained his sword!

References to Rosemary Sutcliff's novel are few and far between in the director's commentary, although he admits elsewhere that he loved the book as a child. Indeed, there is no information on why the title `The Eagle' was chosen instead of that of Sutcliff's original novel. (Was it because the studio feared American audiences would think this was a ninth instalment of a film series?) There is also precious little about the background to the film's production or how he personally became involved.

From Macdonald's commentary we do learn, however, that the scenes set south of the border were filmed in Hungary, but the Scottish shots are genuine: indeed, some were from places in which he grew up. He also states that they tried to be as authentic as possible in terms of the layouts of the Roman fort, and of the villa at Calleva (Silchester) in southern England, even to the extent of having little light in the interiors of the Roman rooms. The army manoeuvres and their clothing were also as authentic as possible. (The historical adviser to the film was the respected Roman historian and archaeologist Lindsay Allason-Jones.)

However, the production's striving for realism has the Picts speaking Gaelic and not the Brythonic version of Celtic. Perhaps the production feared the viewers would be confused by Picts speaking Welsh. (I know there is an argument that asserts the original inhabitants of Argyll were Q-Celtic speakers, but that would certainly not have been the case for poor Esca of the Brigantes.) As for the look of the Picts, Macdonald admits that he relied on the writings of Tacitus. It is also fanciful, of course, to depict that just one step north of the wall would mean a Roman was in hostile territory. But I guess these are the minor niggles of a pedant.

And yet Scotland is here also sometimes depicted as something out of `The Lord of the Rings' rather than the complex Iron Age community - or communities - it was, but I guess Hollywood would not care so much for this kind of authenticity, post-Vietnam. (I suppose we should at least be thankful that Hollywood did not insist on the introduction of a love interest.) Nor does Macdonald refer to obvious parallels in cross-cultural relations between the Romans and the present-day United States.

Other extras on my disc include an alternative ending that sees the legion's golden eagle added to the funeral pyre instead of it being taken back to Britannia below the wall, thus raising the possibility of a sequel. There is also six minutes worth of deleted scenes, and a twelve-minute `Making of' featurette.
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on 12 June 2011
looking forward to this for a while. have centurion which is a prequel to this story and a really good bloody violent film. the eagle completely lost my interest after 20 minutes. the american lead was woeful, he doesn't get the roman against picts deal at all (jamie bell was much better as the slave/guide). his acting aside, the storyline is good, as is the scenery. i was looking for gladiator style cinema but ended up with a mishmash effort. centurion was given limited cinema time and bad reviews but nit is far superior to this.
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on 16 August 2011
I was really looking forward to this as I had read the book several times. It is a good action flick, scenery, costumes, acting are all top notch. But the Seal People? What planet is the film maker on?

The so called "Seal People" are straight off the set of Last of The Mohicans. Very disappointing as their prescence in the film makes the whole story too far fetched for belief.

If the facts had been adhered to, ie, Roman Legion marches off into the mist & vanishes & as son of leader sets off to find the Eagle, along the way has adventures with wild Scots men, then that would have been fine. But to bring in a group of blue body dyed, Mohican hairstyle warriors called "Seal People" in order to spice up the story, is totally inappropriate.

Wait till the film hits the bargain bin before you buy.
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on 9 July 2013

There can be very few school boys of the 1950's who had not read and enjoyed the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff. For myself, The Eagle of the Ninth was probably my first introduction to the historical novel and the book that hooked me onto the genre for life.

The release of the new film `The Eagle' has triggered a new world wide interest in Rosemary Sutcliff's Roman books with new editions in the bookshops and a belated re-release of the BBC Radio drama on CD. The big surprise is probably that the film industry has not previously used these novels as the basis for a movie. I did buy the film when it was first released but it is only recently that I have viewed it.

Despite the many poor reviews that this film has received it really is not all that bad at all. The two lead actors Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell put in good performances and there is a short appearance by Donald Sutherland, the historical details are remarkably good and the scenic filming is at ttimes quite spectacular. Most of the location filming was made in Hungary but some scenes were actually shot around Loch Lomond.

Naturally, as with all movies, the film does deviate from the book quite considerably, characters are left out or changed; strangely there is no female love interest, and certain events were altered to give the film a more viewer friendly feel. Ignore the undisguised American accents and it is a good historical actioner; anyway, who is to say that the Roman accent did not sound trans-Atlantic to the Celts anyway.

Not the best Roman action film and will probably be a disappointment to serious Sutcliff fans, but I enjoyed it never-the-less.
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on 12 June 2013
To be honest, I wasn't really sure what to expect of this movie. The movie poster reminds me of 300 and Troy mixed together and probably the only thing that drew me to this movie was Channing Tatum. This movie was nothing like what I expected it to be. At the beginning I thought it resembled Lord of the Rings but Romanised and then the story changed and it became about two men, a slave and his master, travelling through the dangerous area north of Hadrian's wall in order to find 'The Eagle' and restore honour to Rome and Marcus' (Tatum) family name. I think that the setting of the movie was great, I really felt like I was in the Roman age; however, one feature that really puzzled me was the 'Seal people'. This tribe seemed to be a group of men who were all African, but were painted from head to toe in white paint. I'm not too sure of the details of the Roman age; however, I am 99% sure that there weren't tribes that consisted of Africans painted white. This thing bothered me and is made it seem a lot more Pirates of the Caribbean. Another puzzling thing was the fact that the Roman's in this movie had American accents, and the Britains has (unsuprisingly) British accents. Now I know that this movie was an American-British co-production but I still believe that having British accents the entire way through would have made this movie a lot more convincing. Something about this movie also reminded me of the popular video game 'Call of Duty' as the men were all fighting and killing each other into to save a standard with an eagle on the top (this is something I have often seen my male friends spend their afternoons doing - virtually of course). I understand that that is exactly what a Roman Legion would have probably done in those days but there could have been a bit more explanation as to why it was so important. Quite a lot of the movie was also in Scottish Gaelic, with no subtitles, therefore I found it a little difficult and frustrating as I could not understand what some of the people were saying. Perhaps this was to give us a greater insight into the world of Marcus, as he was a Roman, he couldn't understand Gaellic either, but subtitles would've been much appreciated.

This movie is based on a true story (ish). It is based on the Ninth Spanish Legion's (supposed) disappearance in Britain. It is also an adaption of the novel written by Rosemary Sutcliff, 'The Eagle of the Ninth'.

Although I have been very critical of this movie, somehow I'd still recommend it. Personally, I learnt a tiny amount of history from it, and all knowledge is useful (at some point in life.. we hope). A strong friendship/brotherhood is formed between a master and a slave shedding some positive light upon the Romans, as they did not all treat their slaves badly. There are also some recognisable faces in this movie. This is a historical adventure about finding honour and friendship along a difficult journey.
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