With The Eagle film of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s The Eagle of the Ninth historical novel now shortly to be released in the US (February 11th), and also emerging in film festivals in the UK and Ireland, it is time to recall why the director Kevin Macdonald cast Americans as the Romans.
“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 Eagle of the Ninth is based on a 1950s novel by Rosemary Sutcliff and stars Tatum as Marcus Aquila, an idealistic Roman soldier, whose uncle, Aquila, played by Sutherland, epitomises the confidence of the occupying army.
“It’s a film is about a guy who believes wholeheartedly in the values of Rome, and believes everyone else must want to become a part of the great family of Rome,” says Macdonald, who has completed the director’s cut of the movie.
“Marcus thinks, ‘It would benefit them so much — can’t they see it is the only way to live their lives?’ He comes to realise there are other value systems, other people have a claim to honour in the same way that he as an American — or a Roman — can claim honour. This is a film which is some way reflects the some of current anxieties and the political questions that we all have.”
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.