Honour Beyond Hadrians Wall

The Eagle

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In the 1st Century AD, the Roman Empire extended into southern Britain and up to the borders of Scotland. The Eagle directed by Kevin Macdonald who brought us the impressively brilliant Oscar winning Last King of Scotland, stars a surprisingly capable Channing Tatum along with Jamie Bell is an engaging period tale about this expansionist phase of the Roman Empire and its stronghold in Britain.

Tatum, who has come a long way as an actor from Step Up to play Marcus Aquila, a Roman lieutenant who goes to the then savage lands of Britain and extend the rule of the Roman Empire and regain the lost standard with the assistance of his all too savvy slave Esca. Twenty years earlier a standard, a gold eagle was lost in the Scottish highlands, by a Roman legion said to be slain by the savage tribes that inhabited the north beyond Hadrian’s Wall, a fortification erected in 122 AD along the North of England, also used as a means of taxation for those caught within the realms of the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall was one of the most heavily fortified border in the entire Empire, separating Roman controlled Britain with the wild Scottish Highlands.

That legion was lead by Marcus Aquila’s father and the tale of the lost gold standard has haunted Marcus Aquila and tainted his family’s honour. Marcus after sustaining a leg injury in a battle with local Druids is sent to recover at his Uncle’s villa in Southern Britain, who is guided by his more cautious relative, a wonderful cameo by the veteran actor Donald Sutherland. Near his uncle’s villa, Marcus saves the life of Esca in a primitive battle with a second rate gladiator and Esca, in a superb and wry performance by Jamie Bell who has also filled out considerably since his debut in the hit ballet film Billy Elliot, becomes Marcus’s slave but also his able-bodied companion.

In a bid to search for the lost Eagle, the gold standard, Marcus and Esca embark on a treacherous journey beyond the boundaries of the known world or the Roman world that is and there the colonizer becomes the colonized by the savage and ruthless seal tribe. In order to survive Esca makes Marcus his slave in the face of the savage tribe who have taken the gold standard as their own, a glorified object to be worship in pagan rituals. Although not entirely historically accurate, The Eagle is very engaging ethnographically recreating a world of Britain centuries before William the Conqueror invaded the island in 1066, displaying a barbaric land inhabited by various druid and Celtic tribes who were adverse to their Roman colonizers seizing their land especially those in ancient Scotland.

The Eagle is about men conquering other men through violence and colonization, about honour lost and dignity regained. It’s a male bonding journey about a master and servant who through their journey beyond Hadrian’s Wall help each other gain both honour, respect and freedom.

While all this sounds vaguely homoerotic, it certainly is. Especially with Channing Tatum as the muscular and brawny Marcus being assisted by the instinct driven and supple Esca, as they battle savage tribes, their own repressed longings for each other and their respective dead fathers is played out in a bitterly cold and vicious but breathtaking landscape of Scotland, a land well beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and beautifully captured by director Kevin Macdonald, showing his passion for his native Scotland.

The Eagle does not fare as well as Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator, but with all the sword fighting, bloodletting and adventure is well worth watching if not for a peek into a little documented epoch of the Roman conquest of Britain before the realm of monarchy and the equally savage rules of subsequent Kings and Queens from the despotic Richard III to Henry VIII, from the victorious Elizabeth I to Victoria. Like all magnificent and faded empires, both Roman and British alike, have suffered their decline by the infiltration of barbarians and the inability to keep such a vast colonial Empire eternally fortified.

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