As the reviews of The Eagle from this side of the pond seem to have subsided (none left in the ‘Sword and Sandal’ section at the bottom of the main page) and have been largely ‘meh’, from what I’ve seen, it’s interesting that a couple of apropos news articles from the other side of the pond have shown up in my emailbox. First comes a feature from the Journal on Lindsay Allason-Jones, who was the historical advisor on the film:
A NEW historical epic film about a lost Roman legion has the stamp of North East expertise.
The $25m movie The Eagle, inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, opens in Britain on March 25.
And the film’s academic adviser is Newcastle University Roman expert Lindsay Allason-Jones.
The novel is based on what is now thought to be a myth – that the Ninth Legion vanished without trace after marching beyond Hadrian’s Wall into Scotland.
The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald, whose previous movies include The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and Touching the Void.
The Eagle follows a young Roman centurion called Marcus as he ventures beyond Hadrian’s Wall to discover the fate of the lost Ninth Legion, which had been led by his father.
Its cast includes Donald Sutherland and North East actor Jamie Bell, who starred in the role of Billy Elliot.
Lindsay has written 13 books on Roman topics and has appeared in TV programmes such as Meet the Ancestors and Time Team.
She was visited by The Eagle’s production team in 2008 when she was in the process of closing down the university’s Museum of Antiquities, whose collections moved to the Great North Museum. When asked to be the film’s historical advisor, Lindsay said: “ I agreed because I thought it would be very interesting to see how a film was put together from start to finish.
“It was fascinating to go from seeing the original script through to sorting out the details, meeting the cast and crew and dealing with the distributor’s publicity team.
“I was sent copies of the script and asked to comment, which was tricky because Rosemary Sutcliff was writing more than 50 years ago when our understanding of Roman Britain was very different.”
Lindsay pointed out historical flaws in the novel, such as the centurion being in charge of a fortress.
“In fact a centurion was only in charge of 80 men. I wanted to make the film as accurate as possible but there are some things you can’t bend because it is the job of the makers to produce an exciting film. But one that I couldn’t let through, although I was tempted for a split second, was ‘gladiolus’ instead of ‘gladius’ (the sword used by the Romans) in the publicity.
“I still have a lovely image of them running into battle waving their flowers every time I think about it.”
The movie was released in the United States last month and grossed $8.6m in its first weekend.
Lindsay said: “As academics we’re always told to do things which have impact and it suddenly dawned on me that, although my name is just another credit in a long line, of all the things I’ve done in my career this one probably has more impact than any of them.
“It’s a good film that cannot fail to interest people in the Romans.”
… we’ll comment on the centurion-in-charge thing in another post. Other than that, though, another item — from the Gazette — relates on what ultimately inspired the film:
A ROMAN eagle found in Silchester is the inspiration behind a new blockbuster movie starring Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland.
And to mark the film’s release, Universal Pictures ferried a band of critics to the ancient Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum where the eagle was discovered.
They were given a tour, along with producer Duncan Kenworthy – whose producer credits include Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral. They were also taken to the amphitheatre and instructed in Roman combat by the film’s experts in sword fighting.
The journalists were also taught a legionary display march, much to the surprise of visitors.
And afterwards they enjoyed a Roman feast and were given a screening of the new film at Reading Museum.
The film, much of which was shot in Hungary, tells the story of a young Roman soldier as he attempts to honour his father’s memory by finding his legion’s lost golden emblem.
It is based on The Eagle of the Ninth, a book written by Rosemary Sutcliff in 1954 – whose story, although largely set in Scotland – was born from the Hampshire find almost a century before.
The spectacular bronze eagle was discovered by the Revd James Joyce while excavating Silchester’s Roman ruins in 1866. He believed the eagle had once been part of a legion’s standard that was hidden when the legion was attacked.
In recent times the Silchester site has been the subject of numerous excavations by the University of Reading.
Scholars at first thought the eagle had been part of a statue that was burned down in the third century.
However Professor Michael Fulford, who leads the annual dig in Silchester and gave the critics a tour, said while that may not be the case, it is an important find.
He said: “A combination of accumulated knowledge and close study have shown the eagle was almost certainly part of a statue of the Roman god Jupiter and not part of a legionary standard. It’s likely that the Romans gave the statue to the local ruler who ruled this part of southern Britain on behalf of Rome.
“The probable donor was Nero himself as it was he who ordered the construction of the palace for his tribal ally.”
The eagle itself now resides at Reading Museum. The Eagle, released by Universal Pictures, will be in cinemas from March 25.
… if you’re wondering about the eagle in the Reading Museum …