Jul. 8th, 2012

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Ah, well.  The moment I'd been dreading for over a year, that I'd been putting off and putting off and putting off again, finally came last night.  On J's request, we actually watched The Eagle...

I'd heard reports from various sources. From colleagues (archaeologists, who hadn't read Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of The Ninth) and from fans of the book.  I kind of knew what to expect. Dodgy representations of Iron Age tribesmen. No Cub. No Cottia.

That was enough to put me off - full stop.

But J was keen to watch it, so when I saw The Eagle for sale for £3 at HMV a couple of weeks back, I figured I ought to buy it for him. Though every time he suggested we actually put it on, I was trying very hard to find a reason not to. (Ooh!  Henry IV's good!!  It's got, erm, FALSTAFF!!!  Yeah!!  As you've probably guessed, I'm not a great fan of Shakespeare. I'm low-brow, I know, but what the heck???)

The Eagle was, I'm afraid, far worse than I'd expected.  Visually, it was, I concede, very nice indeed.  In terms of Roman material culture, that is.  But the Iron Age tribesmen?  They reminded me of extras from Mad Marcus - Beyond Thunderdome, or The Last of the Caledones

But that wasn't the real problem. From the very start, they'd severed the links with what I considered to be the major themes of the book  - the concept of freedom, what it means, the importance of friendship, duty and honour etcetera. but all in a very Roman context.  The whole tragedy of the tribal revolt which opens the novel was the fact that the Romans and the indigenous Iron Age tribespeople had been getting along okay (not particularly well, but okay) before everything turns to the proverbial, and in the aftermath, Marcus finds himself questioning everything he (and Rome) stands for.  Why can't the locals accept Romanisation?  Why do they throw away the benefits of 'civilisation' (drains, nice rectangular buildings made of stone, mass-produced pretty things, Samian Ware, literacy) for the sake of 'freedom?'  It's a theme which recurs, again and again, throughout the book, though in different ways, and with different outcomes.  With Cub.  With Esca. With Cottia. 

Nope. Not a sign of it.  A ham-fisted attempt at conveying this theme was attempted, and overplayed, of course, in the the Marcus/Esca relationship, where the whole slave/free man thing was blown up out of all proportion, right to the bitter end, in that 'will he/won't he' way. 

In the end, I watched the last twenty minutes from behind a cushion, because I just could not bear to watch it any more.  As soon as the 9th-Legion-Romans-gone-native came back for their last stand in defence of the Eagle, I just gave up. 

I've never really thought of myself as a major fan of the book.  I love it, yes, but I've only read it two or three times in my life. But maybe it means more to me than I thought, since I endured the whole of last night's experience with something akin to physical pain. Perhaps it's because I still remember how much the nine-year-old me loved that book, and loved the BBC television adaptation, and it still hurts like hell to think that I will never, ever, in my life have the opportunity to see that television adaptation again.  In reality, I'd probably find that the BBC version had its limitations, but I'm sure that it remained faithful to the spirit of the book, which this interpretation sadly did not.

And J's verdict?  He really enjoyed it.  Or at least he says he would have done, if I hadn't moaned and complained my way through it.  Everytime I criticised something, he'd reply, in an exasperated fashion, "It's Hollywood.  What d'you expect?"

Maybe that's the problem. Hollywood just doesn't do thoughtful or in-depth any more, and when it does, it overplays it so much in the fear that we, the humble audience, just will not get the simple over-arching message that it's trying to portray. It ends up ruining it for the more sophisticated members of the audience. 

And maybe the sad thing is that I suppose it's getting that way in literature, too, at least as far as commercial fiction is concerned... 

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In my alphabetically ordered DVD collection, The Eagle sits alongside The Draughtsman's Contract.

New Marcus alongside Old Marcus... What on earth's the chances of that???

Methinks the gods are having a laugh...


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