I posted about The Eagle back in January when it was still titled Eagle of the Ninth after the classic Rosemary Sutcliff novel (The Eagle of the Ninth) it was adapted from. At the time we had no trailer and I have to admit my enthusiasm for this type of film was tempered by some of the casting choices. Channing Tatum has done little to impress me, and Donald Sutherland (and his bumpkin American accent) seemed completely out of place. At the time I was actually quite a bit more excited about Centurion (until I saw the trailer), which followed the same storyline, but looked a little more gritty and realistic. I have yet to see Centurion, but my dad has and he likened it to the 2004 film King Arthur, and that’s not a good thing as far as I’m concerned. That damning tidbit and other things he told me about it (plus things I’d already suspected) knocked Centurion a bit further down on my Need to See list. Eagle of the Ninth fell off my radar as a result, thinking that both adaptations were probably lost causes. Then I found the trailer below and I have to say that I’m (once again) eating hasty words and swallowing hasty judgments.
Little is known about the people that lived north of Hadrian’s wall in what is now modern day Scotland. The Roman’s dubbed them Picts, and since they were the only ones keeping score on paper at the time, the name stuck. We don’t know what they actually called themselves or even what language they spoke, although it is popularly held belief they were Celtic and probably spoke a language similar to the insular Celtic that the Britons to the south spoke. Their art survives in the form of large, intricately carved standing stones that dot the Scottish countryside, which have been the clearest window into the culture of this vanished people. One thing is certain, though: Scholars still argue over who these people really were, who they weren’t, where they came from, and where they went.
The Eagle seems to approach the subject with a perspective that is, at the very least, visually different than most other movies that involve the northern tribes of Scotland. According to the film’s director Kevin MacDonald, Sutcliff’s novel refers to the tribe as the “seal people”, an ancient, indigenous people far older than the Celts. They are described as small and dark. A people that lived on seals, using the animals as a source of food and clothing--not unlike the Inuit tribes of the Arctic. I find this interpretation particularly interesting and eerily familiar. R.E. Howard’s (creator of such pulp characters as Conan and Solomon Kane) imagination was fired by the mysterious Picts, and referred to them as “small dark Mediterranean aborigines of Britain”. He wrote of his fictional version of these people in his Bran Mak Morn stories. I find the comparison of descriptions eerily similar and I like the ideas because they challenge conventional thought on a subject that, until someone invents a time machine, we may never have a clear view of.
The filmmakers did use information gleaned from scholarly works on the Neolithic settlements of Skara Brae and The Tomb of the Eagles in the Orkney Islands as visual cues for their on screen Pictish tribe, and Scots Gaelic was used as a stand in for the Pictish language.
If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I highly recommend Jack Dixon’s debut novel The Pict.
For now watch the trailer for The Eagle, and please share your opinion in the comments section below.
In 140 AD, two men - master and slave - venture beyond the edge of the known world on a dangerous and obsessive quest that will push them beyond the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, friendship and hatred, deceit and heroism... The Roman epic adventure The Eagle stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell and is directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald.
20 years earlier, Rome's 5,000-strong Ninth Legion, under the command of Flavius Aquila, marched north carrying their treasured golden Eagle emblem. They never returned; Legion and Eagle simply vanished into the mists. Hearing a rumor that the Eagle has been seen in a tribal temple in the far north, Flavius' son Marcus (Tatum), determined to restore the tarnished reputation of his father, is galvanized into action. Accompanied only by his slave Esca (Bell), Marcus sets out into the vast and dangerous highlands of Scotland - to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father's memory, and retrieve the hallowed Eagle. Along the way Marcus realizes that the mystery of his father's disappearance may well be linked to the secret of his own slave's identity and loyalty - a secret all the more pressing when the two come face-to-face with the warriors of the fearsome Seal Prince (Tahar Rahim).
So, what did you think? At this point I’m more interested in The Eagle than I was before I saw the trailer. I do worry, though, that the film will portray the Picts as the bloodthirsty, mindless cliché that other films of this genre have made them out to be. I’ve had enough Romano-centric historical pieces to last me a life time.
***Editor's note: I unwittingly reverted back to using the old title Eagle of the Ninth somewhere after the first paragraph and even mistyped it in the title of the post! The film’s title is The Eagle and it is based on the Rosemary Sutcliff novel The Eagle of the Ninth. I am sorry for any confusion that stemmed from these typos.