Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Centurion Movie Trailer and Eagle of the Ninth

Above is a new trailer for the upcoming movie, "Centurion". This film is based on what is thought to be a historical event, where the Roman Ninth Legion supposedly completely disappeared after marching north from Britain in 117 AD in order to put down a rebellion of the Caledonian tribes. A very good historical novel, "The Eagle of the Ninth", written by Rosemary Sutcliff also was based upon this event, although her novel takes place 15 years later, when the son of the legion's commander embarks on a quest to regain the lost eagle and his family's honor. It seems that this film concerns the massacre of the legion itself and the events immediately following that massacre. I love Rosemary Sutcliff's novel (they just don't write historical fiction like that anymore), and supposedly the actual novel itself is going to be made into a new film also. I'll be looking forward to that film, but "Centurion" also appears to be a winner. Production values seem very good and attention seems to have been paid to historical accuracy (for instance, the Roman armor looks reasonably accurate - not the stock theatrical leather armor used in most Hollywood films). I am optimistic that the film will be enjoyable for both history buffs and adventure film fans alike.

Back to "Eagle of the Ninth" though. As I mentioned above, this is simply a wonderful, classic historical novel concerning life on the borderlands of the Roman Empire. Most of Rosemary Sutcliff's novels were written as "juveniles", marketed for British teenagers of the 1950's, but they are so much more mature and subtle than what passes for young adult fiction today. In fact, several years ago, I reread "Eagle of the Ninth" with my daughter for bedtime story sessions, along with the also fantastic, "The Lantern Bearers", and I was astonished with how sophisticated these novels are. The characters are multi-layered, the violence is frightfully realistic, the atmosphere is bleak and melancholy, and there are no simple, "everyone lived happily ever after" plot resolutions. Really, although appropriate for mature young adults, I don't see why these books are not now simply considered classic works of historical fiction, dumping the "juvenile" label altogether. I really hope that the film version of "Eagle of the Ninth" can capture these facets of the novels, and does not degenerate into a simple adventure flick appealing to the lowest common denominator of movie fans.

Below are several still shots of scenes from "Eagle of the Ninth". Note that Donald Sutherland is playing the uncle of the main character.

Okay - "Eagle of the Ninth" doesn't appear to have the same production values as "Centurion". The Romans are wearing that off-the-shelf costume Hollywood leather armor, and there doesn't appear to be any full scale battle scenes. This may not be a film killer though. "Eagle of the Ninth" is a "smaller" film than "Centurion", and if it accurately reflects the novel it is based on, it will be primarily character and plot driven anyway. So, if it is well-scripted and well-acted, then I'm sure it will be a very fine film. If it succeeds in some small measure in capturing the atmosphere and plot of Sutcliffe's novel, I will be more than satisfied.

As an aside, I hear that the movie will delve into a contemplation on the limits of empire and imperial ambitions. Supposedly for this reason, the Romans will be played by American actors, while the Caledonian tribesmen will be a cast of actors from the UK. Assuming the writers and directors don't play this angle with too heavy a hand, it may be a very interesting approach, giving the film more relevance than is typical for standard sword-and-sandal fare.

Anyway, it appears that since the commercial success of "Gladiator", the movie industry still is motivated to produce the occasional sword-and-sandal flick. Hey, if nothing else, these movies will be inspirational fodder for a new Ancient game or two. And they just might convince me to build a new 15mm scale Ancient British army...maybe using those really nice Celtic figures from Splintered Light.

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