Produced and distributed by Focus Features
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Screenplay by Jeremy Brock
There’s this to be said for director Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle, set in Roman-occupied Britain circa a.d. 140: It’s remarkably unpretentious. It was made for a mere $24 million at a time when even the most ordinary Hollywood romantic comedies cost two to three times as much, and, what’s more, it seems entirely free of CGI effects. The Eagle is that odd bird—a film distinguished by its aesthetic and budgetary restraint.
Macdonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock adapted their film from Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which tells the story of what may have happened to Rome’s Ninth Legion: Supposedly, it disappeared into the wilds of barbarian Caledonia—today’s Scotland—in a.d. 117, never to be heard from again. Today’s historians dispute this account, but it used to be accepted and was thought to have been so embarrassing that, in 122, Emperor Hadrian angrily commissioned his famous wall running from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, much of it still standing today, although in notable disrepair. As far as the Romans were concerned, the wall marked the end of the world worth having. The tribes above were to be left to their vile,...