Though … I just looked The Eagle up on the tomato-meter which gives this movie a 39. Wow. I thought it was way better than that and here’s why:
1) The book. The Eagle of the Ninth is a wonderful book by Rosemary Sutcliffe. It was one of my mother’s favorite books and she gave it to me to read in one of those old hardback editions with fraying edges. A story of a son trying to redeem his family’s honor after his father led the Ninth Legion to their doom in Scotland. Great stuff. The movie follows the book plot better than you might expect.
2) The beginning. It drew me in. I felt for this guy. I wanted to find out what happened next. Always good in story-telling if your readers can find their feet right off (see my review of Ironclad, where I didn’t: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=3371).
3) There was no fake romance in this movie. In fact, I think the only women in this entire movie are a few bedraggled Picts. But that was good because it was much better than having either screaming naked women fighting in battle (e.g. Keira Knightly) or blood-thirsty, all-knowing Pict women (e.g. Centurion).
4) I couldn’t predict what was going to happen. My husband had seen this movie, described it in vivid detail at midnight after staying up late to watch it, and I was still not sure how it was going to end.
5) The relationship between the two main characters, Marcus and Esca. Esca, in fact, was really great. Marcus’ performance has been described as ‘wooden’, and maybe he wasn’t terrific, but he was stoically Roman, which is what I suspect he was aiming for. He does strongly resemble a college quarterback. That’s not necessarily a bad thing Donald Sutherland also has a wonderful performance as Marcus’ uncle.
6) Movies set in this time period are really hard to get right, but this movie didn’t blatantly alter history for its own purposes. Rome conquered Britain. Bad stuff happened. It had consequences. I still find it amazing that Romans really wore togas in the middle of a British winter, but at least Marcus wasn’t running around half-naked in the snow (e.g. Centurion). Sandals strike me as really impractical fighting gear, but whatever . . . apparently the Romans wore them anyway. The ‘seal people’ were rather Native American in their gear and cultural attributes, but I can go with that too. From the director: ”They were a more indigenous folk than the Celts, who were from farther south … They were probably small and dark, like the Inuit, living off seals and dressed in sealskins. We are going to create a culture about which no one knows much, but which we will make as convincing as possible. We are basing it on clues gained from places like Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles in Orkney, so that we will have them worshipping pagan symbols, like the seal and the eagle. The reason they have seized the emblem of the Roman eagle from the legion is because to them it [was] a sacred symbol.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eagle_(2011_film)
This is a less violent movie than Kingdom of Heaven and Ironclad. Hard to believe. Four stars.