The Eagle transports viewers to the year 140 AD, during the reign of the Roman Empire and a period of unexplored mysteries in ancient Britain. Directed by Kevin Macdonald and starring Channing Tatum, the film is an adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth. If you missed its 2011 release or wish to revisit it, you can now stream it on Netflix.
Channing Tatum takes a stab at the sword and sandal genre with The Eagle, now streaming on Netflix.
In The Eagle, Channing Tatum portrays a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, who is driven by a quest to recover the Ninth Legion’s lost golden emblem, the Roman eagle standard, in a bid to restore his family’s honor. Two decades earlier, this legion, under the leadership of Marcus’s father, vanished in Northern Britain’s uncharted territories. Their mysterious disappearance has since become a dark mark on Roman history.
Determined to retrieve the eagle and solve the riddle of the Ninth Legion, Marcus, despite a debilitating injury, journeys beyond Hadrian’s Wall into the unknown territories of the Picts, where he faces numerous threats. He is accompanied by his British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), whose loyalty is constantly tested as they delve deeper into tribal lands. The complex dynamic between the Roman master and the British slave, each carrying their individual burdens, beliefs, and backgrounds, serves as one of the film’s central plot points.
The Eagle largely adheres to Sutcliff’s novel’s storyline, which director Kevin Macdonald read when he was 12 years old. However, he made certain modifications and condensations to his film adaptation, including the introduction of violent scenes. This was an intriguing decision by Macdonald, especially since Sutcliff’s novel was intended for a younger audience.
Channing Tatum delivers a commendable performance as the determined and resilient Marcus. Meanwhile, Jamie Bell, best known for his breakout role in Billy Elliot, masterfully embodies. Their on-screen chemistry drives the film forward, making the audience invested in their dangerous mission.
Beyond Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, the supporting cast, which includes Donald Sutherland as Marcus’s uncle Aquila and Tahar Rahim as the Seal prince, provide solid performances that enrich the narrative. Meanwhile, Kevin Macdonald’s acclaimed directorial skills, known for works such as The Last King of Scotland, shine prominently throughout the film. Working alongside cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Macdonald created a visually arresting representation of ancient Britain, capturing its vast landscapes and portraying the brutalities of the era.
The Eagle wasn’t Channing Tatum’s biggest box office hit, as it only made $38 million, but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as G.I. Joe.
In a departure from typical Hollywood portrayals of the Roman Empire, The Eagle, under Kevin Macdonald’s direction, cast American actors as Romans and British actors as Rome’s adversaries. British actors like Paul Ritter, Mark Strong, and Pip Carter donned American accents for their roles as Roman characters. This decision offered a fresh take on the genre’s traditional casting.
Filmed in Hungary and Scotland, The Eagle benefits immensely from its authentic locations. The stunning Scottish Highlands, with their rugged terrain and mist-covered mountains, become a character in their own right. Combined with a production design that pays meticulous attention to the historical details of the period, the film immerses viewers in the world of Roman-occupied Britain.
Although The Eagle boasts impressive visuals and stars Channing Tatum, its initial box office performance was underwhelming, garnering only $38 million globally on a $25 million budget. It wasn’t a complete failure and it managed to cover its expenses. Over time, the film has reached a wider audience through home video and streaming platforms.
The Eagle is one of only two Channing Tatum historical movies, the other being Public Enemies alongside Johnny Depp.
Critically, The Eagle received mixed reviews. While some praised the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell and the film’s stunning cinematography, others found the narrative lacking in certain areas and criticized its pacing. However, most agree that it provides a captivating glimpse into a seldom-explored period of history.
Initially overlooked upon its release, The Eagle has since gained a broader following, thanks in no small part to its availability on streaming giants like Netflix. This cinematic journey into the heart of ancient Britain, rife with the intricate dynamics of Roman imperialism, skillfully crafts a narrative teeming with themes of honor, redemption, and the profound bonds of friendship. Further elevating its appeal, the film boasts a stellar cast, showcasing the talents of actors such as Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, and Tahar Rahim, making it a treat for those with an affinity for historically rich tales and stellar cinematic craftsmanship.