Star rating – 4/10
This all action film based on a classic children’s book by Rosemary Sutcliffe is set in Roman Britain in AD140. Channing Tatum gives a very believable and watchable performance as Marcus Aquila, a young commander who has volunteered for a posting to our then desolate, dangerous, and barbaric land in order to restore the honour of his family. For some twenty years previously his father commanded the infamous Ninth Legion there, and managed to lose not only his whole legion of 5,000 Roman soldiers, but also their precious and highly symbolic ceremonial golden eagle.
The start of the film is quite promising, with Marcus winning honour and the respect of his garrison by reversing their low morale, and successfully defending them against an attack by the wild natives. He is badly wounded in the effort though, and is honourably discharged. He can’t let things rest there though, as he hears reports of the eagle of the Ninth Legion being seen up in the north lands past Hadrian’s Wall – not a place many would dare to venture. But Marcus is ruggedly determined, and goes alone, save for a slave whose life he has luckily saved and who therefore will go with him to pay back the debt of honour.
Slave Esca is played by former ballet boy Jamie Bell, and it is not clear if he was supposed to have an American, Geordie or other accent, as elements of each slipped in. In fact this is where the film started going downhill in the believability stakes for me. Later, the ubiquitous Mark Strong crops up in another ridiculous wig playing his, by now, standard bit part, and for some inexplicable reason adopting an American accent to portray a Roman soldier who has been in Britain for two decades.
It is a bit of a homo erotic ‘Last of the Mohicans’, with the central developing love hate relationship between Marcus and Esca being quite engaging. As in all films of this nature, there are not many women to speak of – save a few giggling girls momentarily washing in a river, and an old woman briefly curing wounds with magic. No this is all testosterone - about male endurance, honour and respect.
There is a frankly ridiculous storyline – which I won’t reveal it in case you inexplicably want to see the film after reading this. So my regrettably low marks are really for Channing Tatum, and for some nice scenery from the filming in Scotland and Hungary. I didn’t laugh as much as some of the audience at the more ridiculous elements of the film, but it wasn’t the finest sword and sandals adventure I have seen by a long way.