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Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth has been loved by the young and the young-at-heart since its publication in 1954. More thoughtful and certainly more historically informed than the Boy’s Own-style adventure quests to which it has sometimes mistakenly been likened, it has all the ingredients of a terrific adventure thriller: an epic quest narrative, strong characters, the tangled interplay of pride, loyalty and masculinity.

Director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) is also fascinated by those qualities. Working with screenwriter Jeremy Brock (Last King … , Mrs Brown), he brings his sharp, muscular intelligence to bear on this always enjoyable, if not always successful treatment of a story that was also told just last year, in Neil Marshall’s Centurion.

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I always enjoy Philip French’s film reviews in  The Observer, making new links for me which are rooted in his deep knowledge of the cinema. So I particularly enjoyed today’s review of The Eagle which he finds “a most enjoyable film” (apart from a concluding moment whose “facile note” is but a “minor flaw”). (more…)

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Directed by Kevin Macdonald, who previously brought us The Last King Of Scotland and State Of Play, The Eagle’s opening scene is one of the best you’re likely to see all year.

As Marcus’s legion comes under attack from local warriors, swords slice through flesh, horses’ hooves thunder and limbs snap. It’s breathtaking stuff.

In fact, Marcus’s whole odyssey is highly watchable. The relationship between him and his slave is nicely fleshed out and things never getting boring thanks to a big dose of action.

The plentiful use of shaky camerawork really puts you right in the middle of every scene and gives The Eagle a thrilling immediacy.
Source: The Eagle **** (12A) – The Daily Record.

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One US reviewer, MaryAnn Johanson, was “not looking forward with a great deal of anticipation to seeing lunkhead Channing Tatum as a soldier in Roman-era Britain”. However she writes at the start of her review “Color me surprised and impressed”! She writes that The Eagle film from Rosemary Sutcliff‘s novel The Eagle of the Ninth is

… a film that clearly intends to ensure Hollywood cheese is the last thing that comes to mind … and it succeeds admirably, too. Working from the young-adult novel by Rosemary Sutcliff,  director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock have crafted an earnest period action drama that stubbornly clings to old-fashioned craftsmanship in character and storytelling … a radical notion at the moment

MaryAnn Johanson thinks “Channing Tatum acquits himself admirably ” as Marcus, a “newly minted Roman soldier”, and that:

.. it’s not with any cruelty or spite that we are presented with the subtle lessons as Marcus gets in perspective: that even an enemy can be honourable, that civilisation is in the eye of the beholder. For as Marcus journeys into darkest Scotland in search of the eagle, and his family’s reputation – accompanied by Esca, a native slave who despises everything Marcus stands for – he gets a smackdown to his arrogance and his ignorance. Vital to the film’s own sense of honour, however, is that Marcus, though he gets a taste of humility and a slightly wider worldview, is never required to be a traitor to his own ideals. It’s a nicely nuanced outlook for a deceptively simple story to take.

Source: The Eagle (review) | MaryAnn Johanson’s FlickFilosopher.com.

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Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth was much loved by Rachel Cooke, writer for The Guardian and The Observer, which left her with “girlish hope in her heart” as she went to see the film, The Eagle. She spoke of the film on BBC 4 in the UK, on the review programme Front Row, with Mark Lawson.

I went to see this with so much girlish hope in my heart because it was one of my favourite books, and what I feel about it is its a great film on its own terms, but if you were a Rosemary  Sutcliff fan I think you might be disappointed by it. It’s not as nuanced as the book, it’s not as tender or as  lyrical as the book. It’s a very angry frenetic film, it’s very one note, there’s not much light and shade. It’s a buddy film with axes and bearskins.
Source: Listen at 1.05 minutes here

Are you a Rosemary Sutcliff fan, and what did you think of the film? Do post your reactions and reflections in the comments here; or a longer review at the You Write tab (see at the top of the page) … And if you are not someone who has up to now read Rosemary Sutcliff, I do hope the film leads you to the book, and indeed to The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers, two books in a trilogy of Roman novels, all published by Oxford University Press in film tie-in versions.

More on the film The Eagle on this blog

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From The Eagle of the Ninth filmA stylishly brooding Roman adventure, The Eagle is a thrilling journey into the heart of darkness (well, Scotland). Gritty and moody, bloody and brutal, this tough and exciting Roman epic is a classic tale that is very well made … along with all the talk of ‘honour’, this Roman ­adventure film is driven by some beautifully staged fight scenes and succeeds in being an ­enjoyable Roman romp.

Source: Sunday Mirror review

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Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth, and more particularly the take on it of director of the film The Eagle Kevin MacDonald, was the subject of a thoughtful interview on BBC Radio 3 last week. Hear here, starting about 1 minute and 12 seconds in!

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