The Eagle (initially entitled ‘The Eagle of the Ninth)
The Eagle is the title of the film (movie) based on world-renowned historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff’s famous historical novel - The Eagle of the Ninth. Academy award-winner Kevin Macdonald directed it; Duncan Kenworthy produced it. Channing Tatum (other films include G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Dear John) leads the cast, with Jamie Bell (Defiance, Jumper), Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Kick Ass) and Tahar Rahim (The Prophet). Jeremy Brock, BAFTA Award-winning screenwriter of Macdonald’s 2006 film The Last King of Scotland adapted the screenplay of The Eagle from Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel.
The story of The Eagle of the Ninth
The Eagle of the Ninth novel is set in the world of second-century Britain. About 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Roman Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila arrives from Rome to restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth when it disappeared. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca, Marcus sets out across Hadrian’s Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia to confront its tribes, make peace with his father’s memory, and retrieve the lost legion’s golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth. Marcus’ uncle Aquila has retired in Britain; Guern is an ex-soldier who holds crucial information about the Ninth.
The plot of The Eagle film
The Eagle film plot is based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth. It described by one of its co-financiers, Film 4.
Newly arrived in Britannia on his first command, young Centurion Marcus Aquila (Tatum) heroically defends his fort against a massive Celtic attack but is so badly wounded that he is discharged from the army. Angry and bitter that his army career is over, Marcus chooses to risk his life on a seemingly impossible journey into the unconquered north to find the eagle of the ninth legion, the legendary golden standard lost fifteen years earlier when his father marched the Ninth legion into the wilds of Scotland and never came back.
As a companion, he takes his slave Esca (Bell), a Celt whose life he saved in a gladiatorial contest but who hates all things Roman. Their journey together into the wild north forges the beginnings of a precarious relationship between them. But when they are captured by the Seal People, the most feared of all the Celtic tribes and the guardians of the lost Eagle, Esca claims that he is the master and Marcus his Roman slave – and Marcus has no choice but to entrust himself into the Celt’s hands.
Just as Marcus fears Esca’s loyalty is lost and he is to remain a slave for life, the Celt proves true to his friend. Together they manage to retrieve the Eagle from an island temple and, keeping one step ahead of their pursuers in a thrilling chase to the safety of the border, they take a stand in a final, unexpected battle that reveals the secret of the Ninth.
- More posts on this blog about the film of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, classic children’s book and historical novel
The creative team for The Eagle film
Anthony Dod Mantle, who won the Academy Award for his cinematography of Slumdog Millionaire, was director of photography. Michael O’Connor and Michael Carlin were the film’s costume and production designers, respectively. Justine Wright was editor, her fifth film with Kevin Macdonald.
At the time of making The Eagle, in addition to The Last King of Scotland , Kevin Macdonald’s films as director include One Day in September, which won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar; the mountain-climbing thriller Touching the Void; and, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. Duncan Kenworthy produced three of the most successful British films of all time: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually.
Duncan Kenworthy has been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards.He had won five BAFTA Awards and three Emmy Awards. He was appointed an OBE in 1999 for services to film.
The background to The Eagle film
I read the book when I was a kid, and it was just something that had always stuck in my mind as a great mystery adventure.
He said he loved great story-telling:
The documentarian in me says that every film is about telling a story, and that fundamentally the reason we go to movies is to be swept away by a great story.
When he first said in 2007 that he was approaching The Eagle story like a Western he was unaware (I know – I told him!) that Rosemary Sutcliff herself also loved Westerns; she would watch films on TV after a hard day’s writing at her home in Walberton, West Sussex.
Duncan Kenworthy (the producer) and I shared memories of the book The Eagle of the Ninth as one of our favourite childhood novels. I pleaded with him to let me do it, and he finally gave in. There has been this glut of huge-scale sword and sandal movies, but we want to do this in a very gutsy, visceral way. I see it as a Western — it’s ‘The Searchers’ meets ‘Apocalypto’ set in Scotland, where the landscape is the dominant production value.
Source: Kevin Macdonald scouting the Eagle
Macdonald referred to other Westerns as well, saying that he believed the film stood squarely in the Hollywood tradition of Ulzana’s Raid (with Burt Lancaster) or A Man Called Horse (starring Richard Harris), both 1970s Westerns that carried a fierce anti-war message about the conflict in Vietnam. (See here).
Filming The Eagle
Filming was in Scotland and Hungary. Pictures here from the official Channing Tatum website on the filming. Channing Tatum (who played the hero Marcus), said about filming in the Highlands of Scotland:
I’ve loved Kevin Macdonald’s movies for a while now, it was an amazing experience because he wanted to do something really different, he wanted to make all the Romans American, venturing off from Romans being this English-speaking very villainous type thing. It was by far the hardest things I’ve ever done, to wake up every single day and know your gonna be freezing cold and wet, 10 times a day, every single day and you know there’s no getting away from it for about four months, it was exhausting but very gratifying, it’s gonna be some of the most beautiful scenery you’re ever gonna see. I think I had minor hyperthermia, Jamie Bell almost collapsed. It’s a little more commercial that what he’s made before, it should be great.
Source: flicks and bits
Channing Tatum’s experience was made worse by an accident filming: he scalded badly his penis when boiling water was mistakenly poured over him to warm him up!
The accents in The Eagle
“An American accent speaks volumes about these Romans at the far edge of empire “ was the headline of a Times newspaper article about the film which explored the modern parallels, and the approach to casting.
The Romans’ attitudes (including Marcus played by American Channing Tatum) are contrasted with those of Esca, a Celtic slave, played by Jamie Bell, whose distance from his master is emphasised by his voice — Bell speaks in his native Teesside accent for the first time since Billy Elliot, his breakthrough movie.It seems a credible scenario. A well-intentioned modern army marches off convinced that it can impose its superior culture on a distant country. But within months, its leaders are tragically disabused and, among mountains far from home, the troops face an implacable foe and, ultimately, bloody defeat.
If film lovers leaving The Eagle (of the Ninth) find their thoughts turning to events in Iraq or Afghanistan, its director, Kevin Macdonald, will have achieved at least one of his goals. For though it tells the tale of a Roman legion that is said to have perished in Scotland, his new film is just as concerned with today’s events in faraway lands. To ram the point home, the American actors Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland are cast at the head of the occupying Roman force. “It was always my concept for this film that the Romans would be Americans,” says Macdonald.“That was my first idea about the movie and it still holds up whether or not we had any money from America, that would have been my approach.” …
The Romans’ attitudes are contrasted with those of Esca, a Celtic slave, played by Jamie Bell, whose distance from his master is emphasised by his voice — Bell speaks in his native Teesside accent for the first time since Billy Elliot, his breakthrough movie.
The same linguistic trick is accentuated as the ninth legion heads beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans encounter the Seal People whose Gaelic language is unintelligible to their uninvited guests, and their world and values remain a mystery to the invaders.
The film music for The Eagle
Icelander Atli Örvarsson composed the music. He was at the time (said to be) rapidly joining the ranks of Hollywood’s musical talents. Since 2006 Örvarsson had worked with Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, where he collaborated on scores that included Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End, Angels & Demons, The Simpsons Movie, and The Holiday. Before that, by the age of twenty, he was already writing and performing pop and jazz. He won three platinum and two gold albums in the 1990s for work with the rock band Sálin hans Jóns míns. He studied film scoring and classical composition in the USA, and then moved first to work with TV composer Mike Post as composer and orchestrator for several hit TV shows, including all three Law and Order series and NYPD Blue.
A sword & sandal film? A sword and sandals film? A swords and sandals film?
The terms ‘sword and sandal’, ‘sword and sandals’, and ‘swords and sandals’ are variously used to describe the genre of film that The Eagle may be! The term ‘sword and sandal’, or variations, was much in evidence: in the Guardian newspaper (‘sword and sandals’), and in The Irish Times about the film Centurion (‘swords and sandals’). Wikipedia suggests that:
… more specifically … the ‘sword and sandal’ film genre (or ‘peplum’) generally refers to a low-budget Italian movie on a gladiatorial, Biblical or mythological subject, often with a professional bodybuilder in the principal role, in much the same way as the term ‘spaghetti Western‘ refers only to Italian westerns filmed in Europe and which were later dubbed in English.
Alternatively, a specialist TV site claims a ‘sword and sandal’ is:
… a particular kind of period piece set in ancient biblical or mythological times, running the gamut from low fantasy to historical fiction, though some also count movies set in the early Roman empire as well … based on the genre sword and sorcery which the name is based on
- Swords and sandals: A bid for box-office glory from The Independent
- Sky TV collection of 25 Roman ‘sword and sandle’ movies
Other Westerns like The Eagle film
… The action never lets up. The book reads very much as a Western adventure and could easily be transferred to this genre. I think of Marlon Brando in ‘The Appaloosa‘ (1966) when he disguises himself as a Mexican to head off into enemy Country in the hope of reclaiming his stolen horse. The Picts substitute seamlessly for the Red Indians and the young Romans ally seems like a Tonto with his Lone Ranger. Perhaps I have watched too many Westerns! But whatever your age this is one of the great historical adventure stories. (Source: Amazon)
The Eagle and the Centurion
The Eagle film based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth featured in the newspaper The Guardian at the time of the release in April 2010 of the Centurion film. Charlotte Higgins thought that the film then provisionally called still The Eagle of the Ninth would be more ‘thoughtful and decorous’.
The autumn will bring The Eagle of the Ninth by Kevin Macdonald, adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 children’s story by Jeremy Brock (who also adapted Giles Foden’s novel The Last King of Scotland for Macdonald.) It promises to be a more thoughtful and decorous vision of the Roman province. The story has the young centurion Marcus venturing north of Hadrian’s Wall to try to find the eagle – the legion’s standard and symbol of honour – that has been lost with the defeat of the Ninth a generation earlier. (Centurion kicks off British sword and sandals film wave)
Other Rosemary Sutcliff films
Sword of the Valiant
In 1984 Rosemary Sutcliff helped write Sword of the Valiant – The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - starring Sean Connery. It was directed by Stephen Weeks. The film also involved Trevor Howard. (Source)
The Eagle of the Ninth book by Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92), author of The Eagle of the Ninth, wrote some sixty children’s books, historical novels, and stories. This blog reviews and covers all Rosemary Sutcliff’s books: every book for children, adults and young adults, and related TV, radio and films (movies) of the books.
Classic Rosemary Sutcliff books include not only The Eagle of the Ninth, but The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, and Song for a Dark Queen; fantasy retellings of myth and legend such as Beowulf, Black Ships Before Troy, and The Hound of Ulster; fairy-tales like The Roundabout Horse and The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup; and her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills. The blog covers all Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s literature, young adult literature, and historical fiction, and all her other writing including two film scripts. Internationally acclaimed and widely read, she won many book awards including The Carnegie Medal. This site includes the story of her life and work, a summary of every book, a bibliography and lists of her titles, reviews, facts, news, opinion and personal recollection.
Do comment on posts, or submit new material via the You! tab or via email (see You! page for address); this website is a labour of love, not a matter of commerce – Rosemary Sutcliff was my godmother and cousin.
- Full listings of all Rosemary Sutcliff books here on this blog
- More on this blog about The Eagle film and The Eagle of the Ninth book
- More on this blog about The Lantern Bearers, which won the Carnegie medal
- More on this blog about Sword at Sunset
- More on this blog about Song for a Dark Queen
- More on this blog about Beowulf
- More on this blog about Black Ships Before Troy
- More on this blog about The Hound of Ulster
- More about The Roundabout Horse
- More about The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup
- More about Blue Remembered Hills and about Rosemary Sutcliff’s life and work
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