The Eagle (of the Ninth )

The Eagle film of The Eagle of the Ninth book

The film  The Eagle  based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s famous Roman historical novel – The Eagle of the Ninth – was directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald and produced by Duncan Kenworthy. The story as described by Film 4, co-financiers, is here. Channing Tatum (other films before The Eagle  included G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Dear John) lead the cast,  with Jamie Bell (Defiance, Jumper), Golden Globe Award winner 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 from Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel. Duncan Kenworthy, nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Four Weddings and a Funeral, developed and  produced The Eagle of the Ninth through his own  Toledo Productions. Caroline Hewitt was co-producer. Focus senior vice-president of European production Teresa Moneo  is oversaw the film’s production ,with Film’s Tessa Ross.

The story of  The Eagle film

The Eagle of the Ninth is set in the dangerous world of second-century Britain. In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (played by Channing Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian’s Wall into the dangerous uncharted highlands of Caledonia – to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father’s memory, and retrieve the lost legion’s golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth. Donald Sutherland portrays Marcus’ uncle Aquila who has retired in Britain; Mark Strong plays Guern, an ex-soldier who holds crucial information about the legion and its disappearance.

The creative team on The Eagle (of the Ninth)

Anthony Dod Mantle, who won an Academy Award  for his cinematography on Slumdog Millionaire, directed photography. 2009 Academy Award winner Michael O’Connor and nominee Michael Carlin (both of The Duchess) were the film’s costume and production designers, respectively. Justine Wright edited the film, a fifth consecutive feature collaboration with Kevin  Macdonald.

In addition to The Last King of Scotland , Kevin Macdonald’s films as director had included One Day in September, which won the Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars; the mountain-climbing thriller Touching the Void; and, more recently, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. Duncan Kenworthy produced three of the most successful British films ever: Four Weddings and a FuneralNotting Hill, and Love Actually. He has been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards, has won five BAFTA Awards and three Emmy Awards. He was appointed an OBE in 1999 for services to film. He is vice-president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). In 2004, he created the Toledo Scholarships at the National Film and Television School for British minority ethnic students.

Director Kevin Macdonald,

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  (Scotsman). 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

Macdonald said (first in 2007 ) that he was approaching The Eagle of the Ninth story like a Western. He had not known that Rosemary Sutcliff herself also loved Westerns: she would watch films on TV after a hard days writing at her home in Walberton, West Sussex (in England).

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 has referred to other Westerns. He believes the film stands  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.

The filming of The Eagle of the Ninth

In Scotland and Hungary

Pictures here  on the filming of the ‘Roman epic’ movie. The fighting and battle scenes in the film are excellent. Nils Hognestad, one of the people working on the film Tweeted at one point: “I was doing ADR work (see below) on The Eagle of the Ninth– some of those battle sequences are jaw-droppingly good …”.

Rosemary Sutcliff's  Marcus played by Channing Tatum in The Eagle film of the book The Eagle of the NinthChanning Tatum

The Eagle of the Ninth star, Channing Tatum as (Marcus, the hero), said of 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 4 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.”  (From flicks and bits)

Tatum’s experience was made worse by an accident filming. He scalded his penis when boiling water was mistakenly poured over him, to warm him up!.Maybe it lowers the tone here, but what was good enough for The Huffington Post is good enough for me!

Tahar Rahim

The film also stars Tahar Rahim : “I’m the baddie. He’s the prince of an ancient Gallic tribe. I’m talking in ancient Gaelic — it was hard.” (Tahar Rahim the next Al Pacino? | Los Angeles Times)

Dougas Henshall

Dougas Henshall plays a chieftain of a British tribe, who races achariot racing with hero Marcus (Channing Tatum). The race however was cut out from the final version.

“He was lovely, a really nice guy and so down to earth with no ego at all. No hissy fits, no tantrums, he just got on with his work … I have a small part, the first fifteen minutes, if that. I haven’t seen it  … so I might not even last that long! The chief bit of my part is a chariot race through the forest with Channing Tatum and I just had the best time. The chariots were amazing, for the real hairy stuff they had stuntmen, but I got to do most of it myself. I had such a ball.”

Also starring in The Eagle of the Ninth is Mark Strong. (Source: Interview: Douglas Henshall — ReelScotland.)

The plot of the film The Eagle of the Ninth

The Eagle of the Ninth 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, 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. (Source: Upcoming Films from Film4)

The actors’ accents in The Eagle of the Ninth

An American accent speaks volumes about these Romans at the far edge of empire was the headline of a Times article about the film of The Eagle of the Ninth 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 of the Ninth

Icelandic music composer Atli Örvarsson is composer ofthe music for the film of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth. He works with industry-leading composer Hans Zimmer and is ‘rapidly joining the ranks of Hollywood’s most dynamic young musical talents’. Since 2006, Örvarsson he has worked with Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, where  he has collaborated on scores that include Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Angels & Demons, The Simpson’s Movie, and The Holiday. But before that, even by the age of  twenty he was already performing and writing 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.

The Eagle of the Ninth is a ‘Sword and Sandal’ 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 of the Ninth may be of. The term ‘sword and sandal’, or variations, as in ‘sword and sandal’ film is now much in evidence: thus in the Guardian newspaper (‘sword and sandals’), and in The Irish Times about the film Centurion (‘swords and sandals’). Interestingly Wikipedia argues 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

It is the name of a popular series of computer games.

Other Western film connections of The Eagle of the Ninth?

Like the director of the film of The Eagle of the Ninth, Kevin Macdonald, one writer about the book  The Eagle of the Ninth likened the story to a Western film – the 1966 film The Appaloosa with Marlon Brando.

…  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 of the Ninth and Centurion

Channing Tatum in The Eagle of the NinthThe Eagle of the Ninth film based on  Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel featured in the newspaper The Guardian at the time of the release in April 2010 of the Centurion film. Charlotte Higgins thought that 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

Ghost Story

Ghost Story, a  film directed by Stephen Weeks in 1974, was co-written by Rosemary Sutcliff; or at least she has ‘story’ and ‘screenplay’ credits. Marianne Faithfull was in it.  (Source: IMDb).

Sword of the Valiant

Rosemary Sutcliff helped write, in 1984, 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)

Filming Technicalities

ADR is ‘Automated Dialogue Replacement’: a process where an actor in a recording booth stands in front of a screen playing their performance, and then re-speaks the vocals in time with the picture.  It is useful if you want to change the sense of a line of dialogue, if the film-makers have found that there was some issue with the sound recording on the day, or, if you are changing a line, perhaps to one that fits the actor’s mouth movement (which is easier if the actor is far away).  ADR also lets you record new lines for use when a character is off screen. The easier part, apparently, is recording the lines. The harder part  is processing and degrading the clean studio recordings so they match those made on the day the scene was shot.  Good ADR work should, ultimately, not be at all noticeable.  Bad ADR is very distracting.

Follow-up about The Eagle of the Ninth film and book

One thought on “The Eagle (of the Ninth )”

  1. Well, I’ve always wanted a film to be made of The Eagle of the Ninth. It seemed like such a perfect book: a glimpse of Roman life, both military and domestic, as well as the vast and wild panorama of Britain and native cultures. Throw in with that friendship, loyalty, and two worlds coming together, in some places joining and in other places struggling to annihilate the other. What more could one want?

    But there’s always been that horrible, nagging fear that perhaps the film writers won’t get it quite right, that the actors won’t be what I imaged (of course they never quite are), and as well as longing for a film, I’ve been loathing it. I’m a hopeless book-purist and yet I so much want to see Sutcliff’s book made into a film.

    My greatest worry, however, is that I have heard no word about Cottia. I’m not the sort of person who believes that every movie has to have a female, but Cottia was the one through whom Sutcliff added that softer, homely element that is so key to her books. I’m afraid they won’t include her, and that will be a great shame.


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