The Eagle movie review

Posted on 18 March 2011
By Miv Evans
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Historical dramas about 2nd Century Britain have been done to death, so unless a film has something spectacular to offer, swords and sandals should be left buried in wardrobe, undisturbed.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a universally held point of view and despite the fact that there have been many conflicts since 140 AD, we now have yet another tale of Romans, Gladiators and peasants in hessian waistcoats.

Ancient Rome’s 5,000-strong Ninth Legion marched to Caledonia (Scotland) in 120 AD under the command of Flavius Aquila, bearing the Golden Eagle of the Ninth, their company emblem.

The entire army of men disappeared without trace and now, twenty years later, there are rumors that the Eagle is in the temple of a Caledonian tribe known as Seal.

Flavius’ son, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) sets off to reclaim the Eagle and clear his father’s tarnished reputation, taking with him his slave, Esca, (Jamie Bell), who he saved from death at the hands of a gladiator.

The two main characters, Marcus and Esca, are brave, honorable men. Although they both have issues with their personal history, this has not impacted negatively on their psyche and their characters remain unflawed, but such perfection is alien to mere mortals like us so our connection to them remains remote.

These two warriors are also aware of who they are, what they want, and are fearless in pursuit of their goal so they have nothing to learn and their journey is only a physical one, which is tedious to watch.

The other problem with having two like-minded, nice guys as leads is that there is very little conflict. They do have a couple of little spats and end up in fisticuffs, but that’s as down and dirty as it gets.

Even when they get to the Seal tribe there is relative harmony until they leave, and after that it’s more a game of hide and seek than an impassioned battle to survive.

The Seal tribe, by the way, sport Mr T haircuts and green faces, which is imaginative but not very Scottish, but this isn’t a problem as no-one outside of the UK is likely to know that Caledonia is Scotland. Not giving the audience this information is a serious omission on the part of the filmmakers and playing bagpipes as background music just doesn’t fix it.

Before anyone makes any more of these films, there are a couple of things they should consider. Firstly, it’s not helping European relations to harp on about the Italian occupation of Britain no matter how long ago it was and, secondly, the Romans should be talking in Latin with sub-titles, not in English.

The Germans never spoke à la francaise when they were in the driving seat; au contraire, but there again, they only hung out in France for a short time while the Italians carried on with their rape and pillaging for a lot longer. Try 400 years.

Adapted from the novel ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ by Rosemary Sutcliff.

UK – 25 March 2011