Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Eagle of the Ninth" to get the Taymor Treatment

I was so excited to see "The Eagle of the Ninth" was being made into a film until I read that the Romans will be made to look like US GIs. Rosemary Sutcliff is probably turning over in her grave! I'm so tired of ancient Romans getting the Taymor treatment! Last summer I went to a production of "Cariolanus" at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival and it was "modernized" as well. The acting was fine but I went to see men in scarlet cloaks and muscled cuirasses and I got guys dressed like Nazis and guerilla fighters! Sometimes I wonder if this "artsy" approach is just a disguise for a tight budget that doesn't have enough money in it for authentic costumes. What's wrong with presenting a moving, award-winning story just the way it is!!

Another film in production "Centurion" claims it will look at history directly, but it sounds like just a chase movie with lots of gore.
"Centurion" is apparently not based on Simon Scarrow's book since the book takes place in Palmyra (ancient Syria) not Scotland like the film.

When "Gladiator" reawakened a world-wide interest in historical drama there was so much buzz about a new era in historical film making. But Hollywood has squandered this market opportunity with productions that were poorly edited (the theatrical release of "King Arthur" - at least the DVD put back some of the scenes that gave context to the story), poorly edited and/or directed (Oliver Stone's "Alexander" - slightly improved in the Ultimate Director's Cut but still too slow in the intro. I wish they'd release film clips of it for people to remix - I bet one of us could come up with something far more exciting by simply rearranging the scenes), or miscast ("The Last Legion" - I'm sorry
Colin Firth but you just don't have the commanding presence of a Russell Crowe and John Hannah you're just not the villain type). I must admit, though, that I love historical epics so much I still have these films, despite their shortcomings, in my collection and King Arthur on DVD has actually become one of my favorites, although I must admit a heroic Clive Owen is definitely a big part of the reason! Maybe that's all Hollywood cares about.

The Eagle of the Ninth is being adapted for a Hollywood film, one of two productions examining the failure of the Roman army to crush the Picts in Scotland in the second century AD.

Both are intended as allegories of recent American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kevin Macdonald, the director of The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, is directing the adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliffe's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. It tells of a disillusioned young Roman soldier who travels to Scotland to find out what happened to his father who fought there.

The Romans will be made to resemble American GIs in the film in a clear attempt to draw parallels between past and present, said Macdonald.

Christian Colson, who produced Slumdog Millionaire, said Centurion told the story of how the Ninth Legion was destroyed by a group of rabble-rousing Picts who kept targeting Rome's most northerly garrisons.

He told The Times: "It is their biggest and best and most famous legion and they get massacred. Seven or eight hundred are then stuck hundreds of miles behind enemy lines and have to get home. It's a chase movie and an action movie and a violent, gory war movie with heads being lopped off and limbs going missing." - More:

Update: I see William Napier, author of an Attila The Hun trilogy, wrote quite a rousing summary of the history of the ninth legion in the UK's Daily Mail. He mentioned a rather poignant find in York that demonstrates these battle-hardened warriors has a tender side:

"A tiny tombstone was found at York recently, set up by one of those hardbitten, grim-faced legionaries, in memory of his little daughter.

It reads: 'To the Gods, the Shades. For Simplicia Forentiana, a Most Innocent Being, Who Lived Ten Months. Her father, Felicius Simplex, made this.'"

He also paints a vivid picture of the Picts, The Painted People of early Scotland who, legend says, wreaked the ultimate vengeance on the Ninth:

"The tribesmen of Caledonia were fine specimens of men, with reddish hair and huge limbs. They called themselves 'the last men on earth, the last of the free'.

In even the coldest weather they wore nothing but primitive kilts of homespun wool, their bare chests and arms covered in tattoos depicting terrifying emblems of severed heads, shining suns, intertwined serpents and crossed daggers dripping blood.

In time of war, though, they painted blood-red stripes across their faces, clad themselves in animal pelts, wolf skins and bear skins, clasped with brooches of red Hibernian gold, and decorated their spears with blue-grey herons' feathers.

As they rushed into battle, their shaman priests, called the Druithyn in the ancient Celtic tongue, wearing deer's antlers on their heads, stood on nearby hillsides and raised their arms to heaven to summon the spirits of the dead.

They gashed themselves with knives, beat monstrous drums, burnt huge bonfires and howled in fury." - More: MailOnline
Napier apparently supports the view that the Ninth disappeared in Scotland and does not mention reports that remnants of the Ninth are said to have served later in Palestine.

[Image Above Left: Illustration by Roman Pisarev for the Folio Society's edition of "Eagle of the Ninth"]

Note: When I was searching for an appropriate graphic for this post, I found a reference to the Folio Society's beautifully illustrated edition of "Eagle of the Ninth" illustrated by Russian artist Roman Pisarev. Roman Pisarev was born in Leningrad in 1963. He graduated from Muhin's Institute of Industrial Decorative Arts in Saint Petersburg and lives and works in Saint Petersburg and Edinburgh. He is a member of the Royal Association of Illustrators, the Association of Britain Ex-librists, and member of the Russian Artists Union. He has collaborated on a number of titles for British publisher “The Folio Society”. He has also illustrated "The Hobbit" for Vita Nova Publishers of St. Petersburg, Russia. If you visit the Folio Society link, you can view more of his wonderful illustrations from "The Eagle of the Ninth".

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1 comment:

Alex Kulic said...

I fully agree with you that the adolescent metaphor approach to Eagle of the Ninth is a big mistake. The reason the story has stood the test of time is precisely because the author avoided such an approach and let the story be complete in and of itself. Such a shame but here's hoping it turns out better than we now have reason to fear.