“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” Napoleon Bonaparte
We watched Kevin Macdonald’s 2011 movie “The Eagle” at the weekend, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. This was a sword and sandal typical dick flick, made all the more obvious by its lack of a female lead. This was a UK/USA co-production filmed in the UK, appropriate as the north of the British Jamie were specifically written for adults, of which “The Eagle of the Ninth” is an example. Not having read this novel of hers specifically, I cannot advise how faithfully the film has been to it. However, Jeremy Brock’s screenplay provides material for an interesting film of two distinct halves, the first concentrating on some character development and establishment of the basis of the plot. This first half also provides opportunity for some battle scenes with gory violence (more of that later, so not a film for the squeamish). The second half of the movie is a study in developing friendship, respect and interdependence between two men of different backgrounds, but who share more than they realise at the beginning.
Channing Tatum plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, a Roman soldier and son of a disgraced commander who disappeared along with the entire Ninth Legion and its honoured golden eagle standard in the north of Britain in 120 AD. Twenty years after the loss the legion, Marcus Flavius chooses to be posted in Britain in the hope of gaining back his father’s and Rome’s honour by discovering the fate of the lost legion and recovering the eagle standard. When Marcus is injured in a battle where he valiantly defended his garrison outpost, he recovers under the care of his uncle (Donald Sutherland) in the civilised Roman South of England and he rescues Esca (Jamie Bell), a Celt from death in the arena. Esca now his slave, swears his loyalty to him, even though he despises the Romans as they have killed his family and clan. The film then follows the adventures of the two men, Marcus and Esca, as they travel North of Hadrian’s Wall to find the lost Eagle Standard.
The film is a “bromance” type and this is made more pointed by the absence of a female lead. Adding a female character who contributes nothing to the plot and is just there for token value could spoil a movie. This movie didn’t need that and sexuality was not a theme. There’s is companionship, respect and developing affection between Marcus and Esca, and that is one of the “bromance” type of drivers of the plot. The actors perform well enough although the jarring various accents of the English-speaking Romans contrast with the Scottish Gaelic spoken by the natives. The Gaelic was a distraction for us, although one can understand its inclusion as gesture towards Celtic nationalism and perhaps it was to highlight the “barbarity” of the native population, which is constantly contrasted against that of the Romans (and the “Romanised” Esca, who is bilingual and acts as Marcus’ interpreter).
The movie showed a clash of cultures, but it also highlighted how some features were shared by the two groups. Allegiance to one’s fellow soldiers, one’s people, the idea of honour and the idea of loyalty was well-demonstrated by the movie. The Romans were shown in a rather sympathetic way, while the Seal People were show to be little more than savages.
We enjoyed the film to a certain extent, although I have spoken before of its violent scenes (and one stomach-turning one involving an unsavoury meal…). The film is also quite long, at 114 minutes. The cinematography is quite stunning with the British countryside shown in all of its wild beauty, augmented by the misty, atmospheric weather. The music score by Atli Örvarsson was appropriate and understated, while the costumes and make-up were mostly fine. The Seal People of the north of Britain reminded me a little of American Indians with their mohawks and blue bedaubed faces and bodies. Another distraction, but once again underlined the “barbarity” of the natives.