It is a true historical fact that the
ninth legion of the Roman army, numbering about 5,000 soldiers, completely
vanished in 120 A.D. The
assumption is that those pesky Scottish clans (OK, their forebears, by
whatever name) got together and summarily exterminated the infidel invaders,
but the truth is, weíll never know exactly what happened.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian, wanting to protect his newest, and farthest,
province, Britannia, ordered a stone wall built across the entire northern
boundary with ď
,Ē or, more simply, ďthe territory of the barbarians.Ē
Maybe it wasnít quite like building a wall across the entire boundary
today, but, perhaps in terms of relative resources required, and that far away
from the capitol; itís a comparable engineering feat.
In the film ďThe Eagle,Ē the narrative picks up 20 years later.
is still at its zenith, and rules most of Europe, as well as parts of Africa
. Itís an astounding Empire.
And it can only be held together by a strong combination of an
educated and democratic citizenry, an enormous slave population to provide
cheap labor, an incredibly extensive system of roads, combined with
prosperous commercial fishing throughout the Mediterranean Sea, taxation of
subjects without exception (though allowing for some local administration),
and the constant presence of a powerful, well-trained army.
Little wonder that Roman pride is a huge component of what holds the
vast territories together. And
itís Roman pride that is severely wounded in the loss of the ninth legion,
and its emblematic eagle.
Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is a new cohort commander who asked
for the Britannia assignment, though the other soldiers feel itís the end
of the world (and from their point of view, it is).
Marcusí father was the commander of the lost ninth legion.
Marcus is determined to recover his familyís honor (and
ís) by finding the lost eagle insignia, and returning it to the capital in
triumph. But he quickly finds
that serving in this outlaw territory requires more than a burning desire
for vindication. Though he
leads his outnumbered legionnaires bravely against a maniacal foe, he is
severely wounded in the melee, and receives an honorable discharge along
with his battlefield commendation. Undeterred,
he embarks on a personal quest to travel into the no-manís-land of the
ďnorthern territory,Ē accompanied only by Esca (Jamie Bell), his
personal slave, whose life he saved, but he is a native Brit, and Marcus is
sternly warned not to trust him.
What follows is a quest that borders on pilgrimage.
They run into rogue warriors, hostile tribes, virgin territory
unspoiled by the scars of civilization, and a lot of misinformation.
Eventually, almost miraculously, Marcus does discover the field of
battle that claimed his father and the entire ninth legion, but it takes
several twists of fate and circumstance to discover the truth.
Along the way, of course, Marcus and Esca discover much about
themselves, and one another.
So in the guise of an historical drama, itís really a buddy movie.
There arenít any women at all.
Itís all about swordfights and honor and pride and perseverance and
hunting and tracking and other manly pursuits.
Itís dark and difficult and atavistic. But itís done well.
And it feels real.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor Grace