A part of the Ninth Legion went to Scotland and never came back. Some years later, Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of the cohort commander, comes to Britain and, when he's invalided out of the army, goes north to find out what happened and retrieve the legion's lost Eagle, without which the legion is shamed and can't re-form. He finds out, perhaps a lot more than he wanted to, but comes to accept what he can't change and get on with his life...
I finally got the chance to see the movie of The Eagle of the Ninth (called The Eagle as a movie), on DVD. While watching it I wrote my post for Insideadog and it was about Rosemary Sutcliff, not the movie. Watching it made me think again of her books.
I'm glad I saw it on DVD, because I got to see the alternative ending, which I think better than the one they used, if not like the novel either. I also got to see two deleted scenes which showed bits that were in the book - the one where Marcus is trying out a chariot and horses belonging to a local and the one where Esca goes into detail about his family's death. Those were right out of Rosemary Sutcliff - why did they scrap them? I have some ideas about that and about why the ending was changed, but won't go into them here. I also watched the doco, in which the director says he read and loved the book as a child ... so why did he do things to it?
If you haven't read the book, you may not know the point was that the legion had become corrupt before they ever went north to Scotland and, while the hero's father was not a part of that corruption, the legion really is better off not re-formed. This point was missed in the movie, even in the alternative ending. A LOT of the original points were missed, in the producers' eagerness to shout, "Look! American imperialism! Aren't we clever?"
Whatever your politics - and I'm not going into mine here - why shove it into a story where it wasn't written or intended? The book was written in 1954 and it was about Marcus and his coming to terms with his life - and the adventures he has while it's happening. In the end, he stays in Britain and marries Cottia, a British girl who was left out of the movie, probably because it would have been less of a buddy movie if she'd been there.
Here are some of my thoughts about the film: It was better than I expected, though I have a number of issues with it.
Unlike a lot of people who complain about Tatum Channing as Marcus, I don't mind him. He looks like a Marcus to me, if a little older than the original; he had to deal with the script he got and he did it well, in my opinion. And let's face it, Anthony Higgins, who played the role for the BBC, is WAY too old to do it now! :-)
I did prefer Jamie Bell's Esca, the British slave who goes with him. What I didn't like was that in the movie he's still a slave when they go north, because the producers are planning to change the storyline and if he's not a slave at the time they can't make you wonder what he's up to. In the novel, Marcus frees him before they leave on their journey because he can't ask a slave to go into danger with him. And he does ask, not demand.
In the book, Marcus goes as an eye-doctor, as they're welcome everywhere, and actually does some healing - not in the film. Would he be dumb enough to take no thought for what might happen if the two of them just turn up in Scotland and are caught? It seems so.
The scenery is amazing. The second part of the movie was actually filmed in Scotland and who's to say that the blue-painted Seal People with the mohawk hairdos, or their historical equivalents, weren't ancestors of the extras who charged across the landscape? I liked that they took the trouble to have the Seal People speak in Gaelic, because we don't know what the Picts spoke. I believe that they searched for a Gaelic-speaking boy for the Seal child.
The costumes are believable and look lived-in. The music is beautiful, lots of Celtic-sounding pipe skirls in it, and I will get the soundtrack when I can.
Marcus's uncle lives in Calleva, which was a Roman town - so why is his house surrounded by acres of open land? I wouldn't mind so much, but he actually says that this is Calleva.
In the novel and the film, Marcus meets Guern the hunter, actually a Roman, one of his father's legionaries, who tells him what happened, but in the novel he isn't interested in coming back. He's settled into this life, has a wife, family and friends. In the film they seem to decide, after all this talk about imperialism, to let a bunch of elderly ex-legionaries redeem themselves. And, just to make sure it's okay for them to fight the pursuing British victims of imperialism, the Seal Prince does something very nasty in front of them.
I'd give this film a B rather than an A, if I was scoring it, perhaps 3 1/2 stars. It has a lot going for it and at least the makers loved what they were doing. It just doesn't respect the spirit of the novel as much I would like.