Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

It has now been over 20 years since I launched "With MacDuff On the Web" and nearly 10 years since I launched my 2 blogs: Gathering of Hosts and Battle game of the Month.

To celebrate the years and the friends and the million hits I've decided to run a 3 game mini-campaign in late October. By popular vot e it will be set in the mid 18th Century.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eagle of the Ninth

Vintage 40mm Elastolin figures.

I was introduced to Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel Eagle of the Ninth when I was in school and I became an instant lifelong fan of her books. Sword at Sunset might be evn closer to my heart and has certainly been a bigger wargaming influence but afte a dozen re-readings, the Eagle of the Ninth never fails to satisfy. It was therefore with both anticipation and anxiety that I  awaited the new film directed by Kevin MacDonald, after all, while novels often get turned into great movies, the resulting films often bare little resemblance to the original book, just look at Last of the Mohicans, 'nuff said.

Now its not possible to fit every scene and character from even a short novel like this into a 2 hour movie so I was expecting things to be condensed, characters dropped, an so forth, the key things for me are, did they keep the main characters and have them recognizable, and did they keep the main plot or storyline. On a less important note, I look to see if favorite scenes have been included. On the whole I think the answer is yes. Details were changed but the essence of the story remained.

Those changes that were made to get the story across quickly to those not familiar with the book were fine, I was somewhat less happy with changes that seem to have been made to express a slightly different view from the novel. The movie seems to be full heartedly behind redemption but in the book, between Guern the Hunter's decision to stay with his new family despite having risked all to help Marcus and Esca, and the burying of the Eagle, there is a sense that what men choose to do is important  but that you cannot change the past by what you do in the present and those actions are often best judged by intent and how they were carried out than by the results. Probably not popular themes for movie goers these days.

I'm not convinced that following the original plan of having Marcus disguised as a travelling Greek and thus able to talk to his erstwhile enemies in their own homes wouldn't have been better but I suspect that it would have needed an extra 1/2 hour of non-action at least and possible would have confused a great deal of people.

I have tried to evaluate how I would feel about the movie if I had never read the book, but its tricky and really needs another viewing or two. Was it  'GREAT"  movie destined to become a classic? No, probably not. Did I enjoy it? Yes, and so did my wife.

From an historical point of view, I'm not up on the latest accepted interpretations or the minutiae of Roman drill but the battle scene at the beginning looked and felt right.  I wasn't quite as happy with the  Caledones as Hurons even though its probably closer than how I might have pictured them. If they had just not shaved their heads.

I also liked the use of language, Welsh possibly for the southern Britons? Couldn't understand a word they said. But once we went north of the wall I was tickled pink to be able to pick up a good deal of what was being said. (not every word, I was never fluent and am getting rustier by the day, but enough)  OK so modern Scots gaelic probably isn't exactly accurate but it beat the pants off a made up language and was a nice touch.  

Would I recommend this movie? Absolutely!

Am I thinking about how to make chariots for my Elastolin Picts? Maybe.

Am I going to be cheesy enough to send Prince Michael north over the Wall to rescue his great great grandfather's lost eagle? Probably not, well  not exactly but... hmmmm.......

 on minute movie


  1. WoW!! You have some Elastolin 40mm´s!!!
    I watched the 9th and to be honest, I wasn´t impressed...great fight scenes, the roman´s kit was pretty good but ...what happened to one of them? The one in the field after leaving his mate to the dogs??

  2. Hi Paul, I can't quite call the scene you mention to mind but I have a couple of Elastolins and a bunch more kits awaiting conversion. You can see one game with them here

    Hopefully they will be out more this year.

  3. Interesting. I hadn't heard of the movie at all - I'll stick that one on the to watch pile.

  4. The scene is about 2/3rds in, two of them are running across a big area of grassland and they are being chased by wolves. One of the guys falls and his mate goes back but the one who has fallen stabs him in the leg, then runs off leaving the other , who now can hardly run, behind. What happens to the one that ran off??
    PS, that´s one heck of a lot of elastolin figures on the link, they cost a fortune here!!!

  5. Hmm Paul, That doesn't sound like "The Eagle" based on Rosemary Sutcliffe's book Eagle of the Ninth about the son who seeks to regain his father's honour by travelling north of the wall to find the lost eagle. Did you maybe see the other new movie, "Centurion" about the destruction of the Ninth? I've only seen trailors of that one so far. Odd that there should be 2 movies about the 9th legion released within a few months of each other.

    I hunted ebay for Elastolin kits for several years occasionally picking up good deals, I got 100 gold coloured charging vikings with no weapons for 10 Euro's from one German dealer, probably sold as novelties originally but good conversion fodder. Also snagged various left over stock unmade kits from the US at a buck a piece or less, and a few broken lots as well. I've only bought a very few intact factory painted ones, like Prince Valiant himself.


  6. My son's comment was similar to yours, Ross, regarding the traveling north in disguise in the books vs "We'll just ride out and see" in the movie. He felt that it was a major flaw though. We liked the minor interactions with various other Romans, mostly drawn from the book and reminding one that they were men like those in any other period (e.g. grousing about the ham-fisted surgeon who didn't clean the wound properly...)

  7. It certainly deprived him of the chance to get to know the people as people rather than as enemies. I was sorry they couldn't work in the earlier scene in the garden with the straight Roman lines on the sheathe and the free flowing Celtic designs on the shield boss.

  8. The movie was a disappointment for me, mainly because it maintained the pattern established by Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gates: 20 minutes or so of fantastic historical re-creation, followed by an hour or so of "human interest" drivel. I realize that's what sells tickets, but still... That's why I like Zulu and Gettysburg so much--whatever their faults, they at least try to present an historical account, not "personalize" it by focusing on some guy's own story. So far I haven't found anyone who agrees with me, but that's nothing new!

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

  9. Chris, for better or for worse, the movie did follow the book in that regard. Rosemary Sutcliff's whole project in writing was about making history accessible to (young) readers by personalizing the stories.

  10. Chris, I really like Zulu and Gettysburg as well but then they were movie about battles, and Gettysburg follows the book Killer Angels well enough to warrant its claim to be based on it. As Rob points out Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel wasn't about a battle or war, only the initial battle came from the book and it played a much smaller part in the book than it did in the film. Since I have been a fan of the book I for one would have been disappointed if they of changed the story even more than they did.

    I would however be quite happy to see a movie based on say the battle of Chalons. Its about expectations I think, the marketing made it look like more of a war/action film.

  11. Your right about the film wonder you couldn´t remember was in "Centurion". My wife got it out the other day and I mistook it for the eagle of the 9th...teach me to watch films half tired after a weeks work and half drunk...DOH!!