The young, ambitious Roman officer Marcus Flavius Aquila is on a mission to discover the truth about his father's legion, the Ninth Legion. Four thousand men disappeared without a trace while travelling to battle the rising Caledonian tribes in northern England. Disguising himself as a Greek doctor, and joined by his freed ex-slave, Esca, Marcus travels beyond Hadrian's Wall to unravel the mystery surrounding his father's last stand and find out what really happened to the Ninth Legion. The journey will be perilous but Marcus is determined to find and bring back the bronze eagle standard that was a symbol of the Legion's honour, the Eagle of the Ninth. Written by
It Resonates True to the Original Novel by Rosemary Sutcliff
Chances are that conversion from novel to screenplay will bring a tragic loss of thoughts from the narrator and major characters. However, BBC Scotland's 1977 six-episode television version of Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel manages to keep a delicate balance between a thoughtful story about the meaning of being humane while entertaining us cinematically in 117 A.D. Roman Britannia. Only the 1976 British TV series of Robert Graves' novel, I Claudius, is as engrossing.
The 2011 film, The Eagle, another version of the Sutcliff novel, eliminated the love story and the hero's fondness for his dog (or wolf), "Cub." In doing so, the 2011 version destroyed the novel's charm that should have carried over. However, the 1977 series transitions Sutcliff's writing perfectly. The production design, costumes, music and acting are also spot on. The detail for props is outstanding, e.g. a sophisticated Roman scissors hangs on a wall behind Marcus in Episode One.
The ensemble of actors includes fine performances from a young Patrick Malahide as Cradoc, the rebellious Caledonian, and Gillian Bailey as Cottia, the love interest of the hero, Marcus.
Anthony Higgins' performance in the lead role pleased novelist Sutcliff so much that she kept a framed photo of the actor in costume on her desk, it is said, until the day she died, as he brought Marcus to life just as she had hoped he would. Higgins is at the top of his game in this role. He's young, confident and strong; he carries the entire program on his shoulders.
The character's determination to exert his passion for life, while comporting himself as a noble Roman officer should, is fascinating. His ambition to recover The Eagle, symbol and standard for the vanished Ninth Legion, (of which his father was one), is limitless.
Higgins told a story about the power of the 1977 version of Eagle of the Ninth at Comic Con in Munich in April 2017. He said, "A couple of years ago, I was doing a movie in Malta about the life of Napoleon. We had an expert historian with us, who knew every button, feather and decoration that anyone of that period would have worn.
"He said to me, 'You know, you're to blame. When I was a kid, I saw Eagle of the Ninth and became obsessed with it. It made me want to learn everything I could about Roman armies, uniforms and weapons. That led me to go to Cambridge to study history. It's all because of you that I ended up there— because you did Eagle of the Ninth.'"
Higgins continued, "With all humility, an actor is just a sign for telling a story. What's amazing is the resonance that can unintentionally result."
Yes, its lasting effect rings true and clear. I'm delighted to have seen this program in its entirety and if you as a viewer come across it, consider yourself very lucky. It's captivating and worthwhile.
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