So, after months and months of waiting, I finally got to see The Eagle (of the Ninth) last night. And, I’m glad to say, it was worth the wait. Of course it was strewn with inaccuracies (a short list of the worst offenders includes bracers on the forearms, leather lorica segmentatas, scythed chariots – in Britain? – and worst of all, the ludicrous Seal People). However, in its favour, there are terrific military scenes, especially in the first half an hour. The battle scene when Marcus’ fort is attacked by Britons is excellent and includes a thrilling charge and the use of a testudo. The cinematography is intelligent and makes full use of the claustrophobic close up for fight scenes, and the panoramic sweeping shot for the majesty of Hadrian’s Wall and in particular the stunning scenery of Scotland.
I thought I’d mind the Romans all having American accents, and the British their own, but it worked very well, making clear the distances between the two races. Tatum was good as Marcus, but Jamie Bell as Esca stole the show as a sullen but proud Briton. Everything was going swimmingly until the pair crossed Hadrian’s Wall. Then real inconsistencies crept in. Instead of pretending to be a Greek ophthalmic physician, Marcus, whose role at this stage was unclear, sulked in silence while Esca simply asked the locals where the Ninth had gone. As if!
The worst part of the film came when the Seal People turned up. Looking like a cross between something out of Mad Max and a tribe who’d had a bad visit to their local hairdresser, they spoke Irish (I suppose I can let that one slide, even though Irish wasn’t spoken in Scotland until after the Irish had invaded it in the 4-500s AD). I know that they were supposed to be the big baddies, but that could have easily been achieved by having them all with lime in their hair, and so on.
I didn’t like the handful of veterans of the Ninth turning up either – not because it was different from the book, but because they barely looked capable of holding up a scutum, let alone defeating five times their number of screaming young Seal warriors! The ending, when Marcus and Esca bring the eagle back to the legate, I actually preferred to the book – why bury the blinking thing under the floorboards when it can be restored to Rome? But I didn’t like the final few seconds. They took away from the rest of the film.
Still, it was very enjoyable, and I’ll be going back to see it in the cinema a second time.
Rating: 3.75, possibly scrapes into a 4 star out of 5.