Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth as a BBC TV drama 1977

Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth was made into a BBC TV drama series in 1977.  (It is now about to be a film or movie, The Eagle). Made  by BBC Scotland, the TV series was  broadcast between 4th September and 9th  October 1977. Rosemary Sutcliff loved the series, and she kept a photo of Marcus (Anthony Higgins) by her writing desk in Sussex. Here is some detail: 


Producer: Pharic MacLaren

Writer: Bill Craig

Production Design: Gordon Campbell

Director: Michael Simpson


Anthony Higgins as Marcus; Christian Rodka as Esca; Matthew Long as Hilarion; Patrick Malahide  as Cradoc; Bernard Gallagher as Drusillus; Peter Whitbread as Marcus’ Father; Bill Henderson as Duty Centurion; Brian Carey as Aulus; Laura Graham as Guinhumara


1. FRONTIER FORT (Broadcast Sunday 4 September 1977 at 5.45pm)

Young Marcus, a Roman living in a conquered Britain of AD 117, is on a quest to find not just his father but also the Ninth legion’s gold eagle standard. Guest cast included: IAIN AGNEW as druid; GEORGE HOWELL as Soldier

2. ESCA (Broadcast Sunday 11 September 1977 at 5.45pm)

Marcus is befriended by the warrior Cradoc. Guest actors included: Patrick Holt as Aquila; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; Willie Joss as Stephanos; Paul Chapman as Clodius Maximus

3. ACROSS THE FRONTIER (Broadcast Sunday 18 September 1977 at 6.10pm)

Stuck in Calleva after being invalided out of the army after getting involved in an uprising Marcus meets up with British gladiator Esca. Guest actors included: Kalman Glass as Rufrius Galarius; Patrick Holt as Aquila; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; Willie Joss as Stephanos; Darien Angadi as Placidus; Martin Heller as Cladius; Gerard Slevin as Decurion; Iain Glass as soldier

4. THE LOST LEGION (Broadcast Sunday 25 September 1977 at  6.10pm)

Marcus and Esca get word that the Legion’s Eagle is rumoured to be up north. Guest Actors: Conrad Phillips as Legate; Victor Carin as Guern; Moultrie Kelsall as Tradui; Alec Heggie as Dergdian; David Hayman as Liathan; Robert Docherty as Gault

5. WILD HUNT (Broadcast Sunday 2 October 1977 at 6.05pm)

Marcus gets his first glimpse of the Eagle and also meets a centurion, Guern, from the Ninth Legion. Guest Actors included: Moultrie Kelsall as Tradui; Alec Heggie as Dergdian; David Hayman as Liathan; Robert Docherty as Gault

6. VALEDICTORY (Broadcast Sunday 9 October 1977 at  6.10pm)

Marcus comes face to face with the man responsible for the death of his father and also determines to steal the Eagle. Guest actors included: Patrick Holt as Aquila; Victor Carin as Guern; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; David Hayman as Liathan; Martin Heller as Claudius; Linal Haft as guard commander

6 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth as a BBC TV drama 1977

  1. Dear Anthony (and/or others):
    The 2011 film of Eagle opened today in the U.S. to mixed reviews. The New York Times did not care for it. It seems to have little of the original tone of the novel.
    I plan to write to the BBC, specifically to Sir Michael Lyons, Mark Thompson and Mark Byford, to ask if they will now release the original on DVD, as there are so many people in the world who would like to see the original.
    You have probably done this already but I want to encourage others to do the same.
    Thank you,


    • Judie – Thank you for this. The reviews are mixed, as far as I can see. On the positive side I have gathered some early reviews here on the blog which were much more positive. I have seen the film once, in a preview, and my critical functions were dulled by the emotion of seeing Rosemary Sutcliff’s book in some version on the big screen at all! But I really enjoyed it. I thought it did get the essence of the book (to my mind about honour, ‘manliness’ as one review has it, trust, evolving friendship across divides, transcending disability – as of course RS did)

      Interestingly, it seems to me, some film reviewers criticise the film-makers for not having elements that they have not injected beyond the book. Damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. If they (film-makers) are faithful to the essence of the book some people find the values over simple and old fashioned or even irrelevant in 2011; if they change the story overmuch, and if they inject new values and themes, they are criticised for not representing the essence of the book.

      Let us all keep at the BBC.


  2. The BBC plans nothing at present but I will prod them about your interest. There may be someone out there who has a recording who finds this blog and could say so!


  3. Same question as Janet: is there any way for we in North America to get this miniseries? I’d heard of it briefly before, and would really love to see it.


  4. Is there any possibility that the television production might be re-released on DVD (for North American audiences)?


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