The Eagle (2011)





Director:     Brad Furman. 

Starring:     Channing Tatum (Marcus Flavius Aquila),  Jamie Bell (Esca),  Donald Sutherland (Uncle Aquila),  Mark Strong (Guern),  Tahar Rahim (Seal Prince),  Denis O'Hare (Lutorius),  Dakin Matthews (Claudius Marcellus),  Douglas Henshall (Cradoc),  Paul Ritter (Galba),  Pip Carter (Servius Placidus),  Ned Dennehy (Seal Chief / The Horned One),  István Göz (Cohort Centurion),  Bence Gerö (Celt Boy / Young Marcus),  Zsolt László (Paulus),  Julian Lewis Jones (Cassius).  

accompanied by his slave, a Roman journeys to Scotland to retrieve his father's long-lost emblem



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"In 120 AD the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army marched into the unconquered territory of Northern Britain. They were never seen again. All 5,000 men vanished, together with their treasured standard. Shamed by this great loss, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a giant wall to cut off the north of Britain forever. Hadrian's wall marked the end of the known world."

20 years later, Roman occupied southern Britain. Marcus Flavius Aquila arrives with his men at a Roman outpost. He is with the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, Second Legion. His mission is to relieve the command. He is greeted by the acting senior officer, Lutorius Drusillus Salinator. The garrison commander has already left because he just couldn't wait to get away from the outpost.

Marcus is not impressed by the fort because it looks run down and the latrines are not working properly. And Lutorius is not very impressed by Marcus. He remarks that the fellow is going to run the place strictly by the book. A fellow named Galba says: "You mark my words. Marcus Aquila is tainted." His father lost the eagle of the Ninth Legion, along with 5,000 men. Another soldier with 23 years of experience in the army says he know a bad omen when he sees one. "And the boy is a bad omen."

The "boy" is trying to regain his family's honor. He has his men almost immediately working on the shoring up of the garrison's defenses. The 23-year veteran advises against sending out a patrol because it's too dangerous. There have been reports of a Druid roaming the local villages. Marcus replies:  "The men, they need to eat too."

At night, Marcus is awakened by some suspicious sounds. He gets up and dressed and visits the garrison's viewing platforms. He continues to hear noises, so he orders Lutorius to quietly wake up the men. The soldiers get into their gear and report for battle stations. As they wait, they start to get mad at the commander thinking he doesn't know what he's doing. Lutorius thinks the same way. But then, all of a sudden, a man jumps climbs over the garrison walls and descends on Marcus. Now the other Britons charge the walls. It's a hard fight on the parapets. Marcus kills several of the Britons and then manages to grab a torch and throws into into the tar ditches that immediately roar with fire, killing some of the enemy and forcing back others.

The battle won, now the men tell Marcus that he did well. Even Lutorius says many more Romans would be dead if it wasn't for their new commander.

The patrol sent out into the wild finally returns, but as prisoners of the Britons. There are a massive number of troops under the tribal leader. He shouts out in Gaelic: "Our gods will bring us victory today!" He then cuts off the head of one of the Roman soldiers.

Marcus gives the order to muster 50 men. He will lead them outside the fort. When the men are ready, Marcus tells them they will form testudo. When they get close to the enemy they form up like a turtle with the shields shielding the sides and the top of the formation. Then they stab through the openings around their shields to kill the men that attack them. The enemy leader now decides to come after the formation and break it up with horses and chariots. On the wheels are knifes used to cut off the legs of men standing in the way. Marcus tells his men to retreat and then to run for it. They all start running, but Marcus gets mad, picks up a spear and runs straight at the leader's chariot. He throws the spear right through the leader's driver, the reins are dropped and the horses veer off immediately, throwing the leader to the ground. Meanwhile, Marcus is hit by the flying chariot and knocked out.

Marcus dreams of when he was but a youth and watched as his father road off for Britain and death. He awakens and asks where is he? He is in Calleva, Britain. The fort surgeon had Marcus transferred here, 200 leagues in a mule cart. The man speaking to him is his Uncle Aquila. Marcus' men were saved. Littorius comes to pay a visit to Marcus. He brings the news that for holding the fort under extreme duress, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls has been awarded the gilded laurel. Now their staff will carry its first wreath. Furthermore, Marcus receives a military armilla (that is, a wrist bracelet) for conspicuous gallantry. He is also granted an honorable discharge because of his wounds.

That last bit of news has upset Marcus. So he starts working his body to strengthen it. After awhile, he is strong enough to attend an entertainment event for the people of the village. He asks Aquila what was his father like? His father was a perfect Roman. Marcus asks how can the man who lost the Eagle symbol be the perfect Roman? And how do they know that father didn't run away from the battlefield a coward? Uncle doesn't like those questions.

The next entertainment pits a gladiator against a normal slave. The slave knows he can't possibly win because the other is as big as three of him, so he chooses not to fight. So the gladiator knocks him around to try to get the slave to fight. The people start chanting for the gladiator to kill the slave. But Marcus gets up with his thumb up in the air and shouts over and over: "Life! Life!" He yells at the the people in his section to get their thumbs up. "Let him live!" The slave looks over at Marcus. The gladiator relents and the people cheer.

Later, Aquila tells his nephew that he bought him his own slave. Marcus says he doesn't need a slave, but Aquila says: "Well, you got one." He calls for the slave. The slave is none other than Esca, the slave whose life Marcus saved. Marcus tries to dismiss the slave, but Esca says Marcus saved his life, so he owes a debt of honor to him. He says he hates everything the Romans stand for:  "But you saved me. And for that, I must serve you."

Marcus' first surgery was not done well. There is still a piece of metal in his leg. The new surgeon will reopen the wound and bring out the metal. The slave helps hold down Marcus.

The operation is a success. When Marcus is better he and his slave go boar hunting. When he returns home Uncle introduces Marcus to an old friend, Claudius Marcellus. Claudius in turn introduces Marcus to his "indispensable member of my staff": Tribune Servius Placidus. At dinner the talk turns to the misfortune of the Ninth Legion. The slave's ears prick up at the mention by Marcus of his father being the leader of the Ninth Legion. Claudius mentions that there are rumors that the Eagle has been seen receiving divine honors in some far northern tribal temple. But no politician is going to risk the lives of the rescuers to bring back the Eagle.

Marcus tells everyone that he wants to go to the far north, beyond Hadrian's Wall, and take the eagle back from the Britons. Uncle tells his nephew one man can't go north of the wall and survive. So Marcus says he will take Esca with him. Uncle says he can't trust a slave, especially one that is also a Briton. Marcus says he believes Esca? Why? Because Esca gave him his word.

From Calleva, the two men continue north through the middle of the island, and up into the mountains around Lindvm along the eastern coast. They go past Ebrvracvm and reach Hadrian's Wall. The wall looks a bit like the Great Wall of China, undulating across the land. They go right up to one of the gates. The guards ask them where they are going and Marcus says north. They laugh at the two men, but do open the gate for them. The two cross a plain and then head up into the mountains again. Along their way they find two men hanging upside down in a tree. Marcus asks Esca who did this? Esca says: "Rogue warriors."

Around the night fire, Esca tells Marcus that he too had a warrior father. His name was Cunoval and he led 500 warriors. He carried the Blue War Shield of the Brigantes. Rome took their land and then the lives of his mother, father and two brothers.

The next day the men can see the Highlands in the distance. Esca mentions that 5,000 men disappeared in one glen, but the fact is that there are thousands of glens in this land. Esca then tells Marcus that when they meet people along the way, let him do all the talking for the both of them. They successfully get past a couple of groups.

The next morning eating breakfast, Esca tells Marcus not to move. There are three rogue warriors behind Marcus. Esca asks Marcus how many warriors are behind him, but Marcus doesn't see any. Esca says they are there. The men get ready for battle. They make the first move, which gives them an advantage. Esca is able to kill three men with his bow and arrows. Marcus also killed some of the men. They wound a young warrior, but then leave him behind and still alive.

The two men come to a small village. They keep running into villages and Esca keeps asking questions, but, although they may have seen the Romans march north, they never saw them come back. Finally, fed up with no information, Marcus rushes one of the men and puts a knife to his throat. He tells Esca to ask him again where the Romans went. The fellow says up beyond the Snowy Mountains, they will find a man that can help them.

The two men head through the snows on the mountain range. They come out of the snows and Esca gets jumped. The two men subdue the man. Marcus tells Esca to kill the fellow, but Esca says the man is a Roman. That certainly changes the picture. Marcus asks his name. He says he is called Guern. His Roman name is Lucius Caius Metellus, First Cohort of the Ninth Legion. His tribe is the Selgovae. They took him in and now he has a woman and two sons.

Guern takes the men to the killing ground. "All the northern tribes were here." The worst of the tribes were the Painted Warriors of the Seal People. They cut the feet off their enemies and ripped their hearts out of their chests while the men were still alive. Marcus asks about his father. Guern says the last time he saw him he was fighting surrounded by Seal People. He doesn't know what happened because he left before the end of the fight. Marcus calls him a coward, but Guern say no. He adds that Marcus wasn't here at the battle, so how could he know? He goes on to say that Esca should know because he's Brigantes and his people fought here.

Marcus in private yells as Esca for leading him around in circles for weeks when all the time he knew where the battlefield was. Both men get angry and start fighting. The fight is stopped when Esca sees the legs of a man standing before him. It's the Seal People. The leader asks Esca who is he and Esca tells him. Then he asks who is this fellow who speaks Roman to him? Esca says Marcus is his slave. The leader says his father will like to see this slave so they will be the guests of the Seal People. The leader adds that Esca must not let the slave speak to him as he does. But they will help Esca with this. They grab Marcus and bind him. Soon Marcus is tied to a rope and forced to walk behind his horse.

At night the Roman slave is struck by men who walk past him. The next day the men reach their village. The villagers stare at the captured slave. He is brought to the chief who is indeed interested by the Roman slave. The chief comments that he has brought many Romans to his village, but never any with their heads attached to their bodies. This makes all the people laugh. Marcus asks Esca what's going on here? Esca says Marcus is his slave. Marcus is taken to a special tent where he is cleaned up and fed. So the Roman now works as the slave.

Marcus gets slapped around by the chief's son because the son says Marcus was staring at his sister. So now Esca slaps his slave too and tells him to kneel before him. Marcus complies but he is still seething with anger. He tells Esca in a low voice that when he gets the chance, he will kill the Briton.

In some type of ceremony the males all get drunk. Then they dance around a fire on the beach. Marcus watches the ceremony from behind some bushes. And it’s now that he sees the Eagle symbol. He rushes towards the Eagle, but gets smacked down by one of the men.

Esca comes over to the unconscious Marcus and awakens him. He has weapons with him. They go into a cave and they find the Eagle. Esca tells Marcus that they must go now. They start on the way back but run into a group of sober Seal People. Marcus and Esca kill the men, including the chief himself. Now they rush for their horses.

A little boy is there who befriended Esca. Esca speaks to him telling him that he has to leave now and to tell his father, the chief’s son, that Esca says he’s sorry. He gives the boy a carved wooden fish and then the two men leave.

Dad sees his son with the wooden fish and figures that the two men have escaped. He slaps his boy hard and the men gather together. They start running after the escapees.

Esca stops to put a bandage on Marcus’ bad leg. He figures that the Seal People are about half a day’s journey behind them.

At night Esca catches a rat and skins it. He makes Marcus eat it raw along with him so Marcus can keep his strength up.

Esca’s horse collapses and the two men are using the one horse left. And now they are on foot running from their pursuers and in this Esca has to help the wounded Marcus hobble along.

There progress is so slow that they have to hide in the river to avoid being caught. They decide to stay in the river and travel downstream. Marcus seems to becoming delirious at times. Esca insists that they rest for awhile. Marcus says he can’t go on, so he wants Esca to head south to Hadrian’s wall for help. Esca says he will do this only if Marcus will free him from slavery. Marcus frees him. Esca says he will return and takes off heading south.

Marcus makes a staff to help him walk and places the Eagle on the top of the staff. He starts walking downstream.

Esca returns with men from the Ninth Legion. And Marcus learns from Gruen that his father did not die a coward. And now the men get ready to fight the Seal People.

The Seal People come down to the river. The leader shouts to Esca that this is what happens to those who betray their own people. He then slits the throat of his own son, the boy who did not betray his friend of his people.

The leader of the Seal group desperately wants to kill Esca, but Marcus steps in to protect Esca and the two leaders fight each other. Marcus overpowers and strangles/drowns the Seal leader under water. Gruen is killed in the fight. Marcus, Esca and a few of the Ninth Legion survive.

Marcus and Esca return with the Eagle to Calleva and hand over the symbol to Claudius Marcellus, who is amazed at the accomplishment of the two men. Claudius says: "My dear boy. I congratulate you. Rome congratulates you. And your family’s good name is restored. The Senate will want to re-form the Ninth. Perhaps they can reward you with its command."

The two men turn around and walk out.


Good adventure film with lots of action and a depiction of Hardian's Wall that marked the end of civilization and the beginning of savage people in Scotland.   I read some harsh criticism of Channing Tatum in the film, but I didn't think he was so bad.  He's stiff but he's supposed to be a very stiff character, overly eager to restore his family's name.  And his slave Esca helps Marcus become a bit more human and not just an obsessive character on a mission.  There are more interesting problems.  The Seal People covered in blue mud.  These people never seemed to have existed other than tribes in the north that might have caught seals.  Tahar Rahim (as the Seal Prince) was a bit spooky looking and acted the part as if he were a bit mentally unstable, which helped the sense of danger about the man and his people.  There was no love story at all her.  In fact, women had no real parts in the film.  Couldn't they have created some female character to spice things up a bit?  These issues, however, still don't really bother me greatly and the film is pleasant entertainment. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The Brigantes were a Celtic tribe who in pre-Roman times controlled the largest section of what became Northern England, and a significant part of the Midlands.  The territory which the Brigantes inhabited was bordered by that of four other Celtic tribes: the Carvetii (to whom they may have been related) in the North-West, the Parisii to the East and, to the South, the Corieltauvi and the Cornovii. To the North was the territory of the Votadini, which straddled the present day border between England and Scotland.


43 --  the Roman Empire under Emperor Claudius invaded Britain. The British tribes initially opposed the Roman legions.

47  --  the governor of Britain, Publius Ostorius Scapula, has to abandon his campaign against the Deceangli of North Wales because of "disaffection" among the Brigantes, whose leaders had been allies of Rome.

51  --  the defeated resistance leader Caratacus sought sanctuary with the Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, but she turned him over to the Romans in chains.

71  --  Roman invasion under Quintus Petillius Cerialis begins in Scotland. 

84  --  the invasion of Scotland culminates in the Roman victory over the Caledonians (Scottish) at the battle of Mons Graupius at an unknown location in northern Scotland.

122  --  the Romans fortified the northern border with Hadrian's Wall, which spanned what is now Northern England.  Hadrian's Wall was likely planned before Roman Emperor Hadrian's visit to Britain in 122.

138  --  death of Hadrian.  He is replaced by Antoninus Pius who essentially abandoned the wall, leaving it occupied in a support role and later began building a new wall called the Antonine Wall, about 160 kilometers (99 mi) north, in what later became known as the Scottish Lowlands

142  --  Roman forces pushed north again and began construction of the Antonine Wall, which ran between the Forth-Clyde isthmus.

c. 162  --  the Romans retreated back to Hadrian's Wall. Although the native Britons mostly kept their land, they were subject to the Roman governors.

180  --  Hadrian's Wall suffers serious attacks.

190-197  --   Hadrian's Wall suffers more serious attacks. 

430  --  the Romans finally leave "Britannia".


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)