The Eagle

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Name: The Eagle
Creator: Rosemary Sutcliff (novel)
Jeremy Brock (adaptation)
Kevin Macdonald (director)
Date(s): 11 February 2011 (US)
25 March 2011 (UK)
Medium: Film
Country of Origin: USA, UK
External Links: at IMDb
at Wikipedia
ninth_eagle LJ Community
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The Eagle is a 2011 film adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth. Set in second century Roman Britain, it follows the quest of a young ex-legionary Marcus Flavius Aquila and his ex-gladiator slave Esca Mac Cunoval to find and bring back the Eagle Standard of the lost Ninth Legion, who marched beyond Hadrian's Wall and never came back.


Spoiler Warning: This article or section may contain spoilers. If this bothers you, proceed with caution.

Marcus is a young centurion who arrives in Britain to serve in his first post as garrison commander. He's chosen this far northwestern corner of the Roman empire because years earlier the ninth legion, for which his father was the standard-bearer, vanished without trace in the northern region of Caledonia (the Scottish highlands). Losing the legion's standard - a golden eagle - brought dishonor to his family name, and Marcus' sole aim is to win honor back through brave service. During an attack on the garrison by Celtic tribesmen, his foresight and bravery save the fort. In the battle, Marcus is severely wounded; and, while convalescing at his uncle's villa in Calleva, he is given an honorable discharge.

Esca is a captured Briton, the son of a Brigantes chieftain whose family was killed by Romans following an insurrection by his tribe. Esca is trained as a gladiator and it's during a visit to the games at the local amphitheater that he and Marcus first have contact. During the fight, Esca's life hangs in the balance, the audience giving him the 'thumbs down' for his death, when Marcus manages to bring the crowd around and saves Esca's life, done on impulse as an act of kindness.

It's at this point that the screenplay diverges from the book in a number of crucial ways that impact both the characterization and dynamics of the two main characters.

Divergence between film and book

In the book, Marcus chooses to buy Esca as his body slave and when they meet, Esca is wary but respectful. Over the following months they gradually build a friendship and when, some time later, Marcus hears a rumor the eagle of the ninth has been seen beyond the wall in the wilds of Caledonia, Marcus sees the opportunity to redeem his family's name by going on a quest to find and retrieve it. He prepares himself for the quest by training as an eye doctor and before leaving, gives Esca his freedom.Esca chooses to accompany him as his friend.

By contrast, in the movie Esca is purchased by his uncle, without Marcus' prior knowledge. On being presented with Esca, Marcus makes it clear to his new slave he neither wants nor needs him. Esca, for his part, tells Marcus that he despises everything Rome stands for, but for saving his life, Esca believes he owes Marcus a debt of honor and pledges to serve him. Thus begins a fractious master/slave relationship. When Marcus hears about the eagle, Esca is given no choice about accompanying his master, being Marcus' slave; so when they set out on the long ride north, their relationship remains as antagonistic and tense as it was in the beginning.

Unable to speak the local language, Marcus is entirely reliant on Esca, and although uncertain where his slave's allegiance truly lies, has no choice but to trust him. He discovers too late, just when they are set upon by a fierce tribe known as the Seal People, that Esca knows far more about the eagle's whereabouts than he's admitted. While Esca tells the son of the tribe's chieftain that Marcus is his slave, thus saving the Roman's life, Marcus no longer trusts Esca or his loyalty.

Fandom Tropes

The Eagle contains many fandom tropes, particularly those popular in slash fandom, the most prominent of which is master/slave, with a role reversal partway through the film that has a distinctly d/s undertone. Both characters engage in hurt/comfort with each other and both carry a lot of angst due to past misfortunes and future uncertainty. As the film heads towards its climax, Marcus' disability becomes a problem, particularly because of their size difference, as Esca doesn't have the stature or strength to carry him any distance.

Unlike the book in which Marcus has a romantic interest in the form of a young Briton girl, Cottia, there are virtually no women cast in the movie, and none of them have a speaking part - unusual in mainstream films today. It was partly due to this, and partly because of the focus and intensity of the relationship between Marcus and Esca, that both the director and actors acknowledged the homoerotic undertones by jokingly calling the film "Brokeback Eagle" during shooting.[1] This subtext was also noted by a number of reviewers.[2][3]

The Eagle fandom

Only a small proportion of fanfiction is based on the book,[4] representing about a tenth of all The Eagle stories written. (See The Eagle of the Ninth page for examples.) These include a number of gen,[5] het,[6] slash,[7] and polyamorous[8] stories. It's interesting to note that while they include characters exclusive to the book, such as Cottia, those written since the film's release frequently base physical descriptions, where applicable, on the movie's actors rather than Sutcliff's descriptions.

After the movie's release, a predominantly slash fandom revolving almost exclusively around the relationship between Marcus and Esca has quickly grown. A kink meme on LiveJournal was started shortly after the movie's release which has proved very popular. A sizeable proportion of the stories are modern-day AUs,[9] though the majority are canon era, mostly set as missing scenes in the film or future fic.[10] Due to the nature of the master/slave relationship and the character dynamics, stories with a BDSM theme are popular.[11]

To assist with historical accuracy, a number of contributors to the LJ The Eagle community have posted information on books and other relevant documents, as well as sharing their research.[12] Many authors strive to be as historically accurate as possible, which shows in the meticulous detail of their writing[13][14] Some have even gone so far as to write entire stories in Latin.[15][16]

Example Fanworks




Fandom Resources

Archives & Communities


Recs, Primers etc.

News Resources


  1. ^ Scottish newspaper interview with Director Kevin McDonald and Channing Tatum: "We've been calling The Eagle movie 'Brokeback Eagle' « ROSEMARY SUTCLIFF". 2011-05-13. Archived from the original on 2021-10-09.
  2. ^ "The Eagle – review Action and adventure films The Guardian". 2011-03-26. Archived from the original on 2021-10-09.
  3. ^ "Reviews: Cedar Rapids, The Eagle - New York Film Critics Circle - NYF…". 2011-02-10. Archived from the original on 2021-10-09.
  4. ^ "Book-verse stories listed • @nintheagle #fiction #canon:book – Delicious". 2013-08-08. Archived from the original on 2013-08-08.
  5. ^ "The Trials of Marcipor - Eagle of the Ninth Fans — LiveJournal". 2011-06-26. Archived from the original on 2021-10-09.
  6. ^ Opalmatrix write "Aedificāre". 2010-12-19. Archived from the original on 2021-10-09.
  7. ^ Tryfanstone write "The Centurion's Hound". 2013-08-06. Archived from the original on 2013-08-06.
  8. ^ Naninande write "unliterati: ancient ménage à trois". 2012-12-05. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05.
  9. ^ "AU stories • @the_eagle_kink #AU – Delicious". 2013-08-08. Archived from the original on 2013-08-08.
  10. ^ Blanket Page "Canon era stories • @nintheagle #fiction #canon_era – Delicious". 2013-08-08. Archived from the original on 2013-08-08.
  11. ^ "BDSM-themed stories • @nintheagle #fiction #plot:bdsm – Delicious". 2013-08-08. Archived from the original on 2013-08-08.
  12. ^ "History resources • @nintheagle #resource:history – Delicious". 2013-08-08. Archived from the original on 2013-08-08.
  13. ^ Bunn write "Eagle of the Ninth Fans - Fic : The Long Road to Calleva 1 : Fall of …". 2011-05-23. Archived from the original on 2012-12-09.
  14. ^ "Until All the Songs Are Sung" by Carmarthen
  15. ^ Sineala write "FABULA: Post Cenam (Aquila, Esca/Marcus, NC-17)". 2011-04-21. Archived from the original on 2012-12-02.
  16. ^ Celzmccelz write "Random Musings of an Unbalanced Mind - I am simultaneously ashamed an…". 2011-02-26. Archived from the original on 2012-12-02.