In the 2011 film "The Eagle," set in 140 AD Roman Britain, Marcus Aquila, a Roman centurion, takes Esca, a slave he rescued at a gladiator game, north of Hadrian’s Wall to find a lost eagle, a small silver or bronze bird fixed to the top of a pole as a standard. This proud symbol of the Roman Ninth Legion was lost twenty years earlier when the Legion marched north into Scotland and disappeared. Marcus is desperate to find the eagle because his father was blamed for losing it in battle. Marcus needs Esca’s knowledge of the north in order to survive.
The Bridgeness Slab, found in 1868, was set up by the Second Legion as a distance marking
stone along the Antonine Wall, 83 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall.
As the credits rolled I was pleased to see that Lindsay Allason-Jones served as the historical advisor for the film. This British archeologist specializes in Roman material culture and has written books, such as Excavations at Roman Corbridge: The Hoard (a Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall) and Women in Roman Britain.
In an interview, Allason-Jones described her meeting with the director, producer and scriptwriter. Later they sent her the typescript of the film and asked her to check it for inaccuracies.
She was pleased with the scruffiness of the milecastle at Hadrian’s Wall since the frontier had moved further north to the Antonine Wall during that time. She recommended that the Romans not wear togas, but early test audiences could not figure out who were Romans and who were British if the Romans didn’t wear togas!
She also told the director and producer that Romans didn’t use stirrups. However, the insurance company did not want the lead actors, who had to learn to ride for the film, to fall. She said it is almost impossible to fall out of a Roman saddle!
She had no idea why several changes from the story were made for the movie. “In particular, the beheading scene was not necessary and simply ensured that the age group the book had been written for couldn't see the film, which struck me as ridiculous on so many levels.”
The Ancient Romans complained about England’s rainy weather and marshy land. In the director’s commentary on the film, Kevin McDonald tells how the modern film crew was limited by short daylight hours and rain for weeks. Fungus grew on the camera lens.
The Eagle (2011) Directed by Kevin McDonald
1 hour, 54 minutes; PG-13. DVD includes director’s commentary.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliffe’s book, Eagle of the Ninth, published in 1954.
*For more of Lindsey Allason-Jones interview, see “The Eagle: The Interview.” https://aelarsen.wordpress.com/tag/lindsay-allason-jones/17 February 2017.
*See “Mark of Rome: The Story of the Bridgeness Slab.”
The 56-minute video reveals how the community came together to commemorate
the large distance stone, one of more than 20 found along the Antonine Wall. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXg8H2zzyC4.