Based on the 1954 historical adventure novel for children The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and directed by the Scottish documentary film maker Kevin Macdonald, who directed such excellent films and documentaries as Touching the Void (2003), The Last King of Scotland (2006), State of Play (2009) and Life in a Day (2011), which has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD, this new adaptation of the famous historical epic, that takes place in 140 AD Roman occupied Britain, is a labor of love for both the director and producer as they had both read the book in their childhoods and still had very fond memories of it.
As a documentary filmmaker, authenticity was of the utmost importance to Kevin Macdonald and it clearly shows in this visually stunning realistic portrayal of a Roman Legion soldier, whose father and an entire 5,000 man Legion disappeared 20 years earlier, must now travel alone with his slave into barbaric and dangerous unknown northern Celtic territory to find the lost Eagle standard of the title and restore his family’s honor.
Filmed by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, the visual style and stunning beauty of the raw natural environments is what you would expect from the person who won an Academy Award for his work in Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
The story is in the same epic quest adventures of courage style as Gladiator (2000), Beau Geste (1939) and Apocalypto (2006). A warrior soldier is captured by or must infiltrate enemy territory, to retrieve or find a lost item that will restore his family honor. But don’t expect the grand scale of those previous CG heavy movies mentioned above. This movie has done an amazing job of looking big scale but on a much smaller budget, without all the CG effects.
Filmed on locations in Scotland and Hungary, the costumes and settings are historically accurate and you get a feeling of being immersed in a well-researched genuine world in a time of our past. The Roman Empire was clearly the most civilized nation of its time and even a slave’s life in a Roman city was more civilized than a life outside of the Empire.
There is a great relationship between the two main characters of a master and his slave, where both men have something to prove by helping the other. The solid performances keep you hooked into the story of two men from different worlds, who both have very strong moral codes but are tied to each other against their will, and must somehow see past their differences to stay true to their convictions.
Since the film is dealing with primitive Celtic tribes of the British Isles only English actors were used to play the early Celtic tribes and American actors portray the Romans. This makes good sense as America is more closely associated today with the strong military power that Rome was at the time.
This movie will stimulate your appetite and curiosity about this period in Europe’s history and will be very enjoyable if historical epic adventure is your thing.