The story, adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s rip-roaring kids’ novel ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’, follows patriotic Centurion Marcus (Channing Tatum) and his scrappy Celtic slave Esca (Jamie Bell) north of Hadrian’s wall to retrieve the Eagle, the standard of the lost Ninth Legion.
The world they find is untouched by civilisation, a lawless tribal wasteland far from Rome’s comforts. For 100 minutes, this is near-flawless: the adaptation is smart, the performances are solid and the decision to cast American actors as Roman occupiers is thematically as well as economically astute. Best of all is Anthony Dod Mantle’s breathtaking photography: the Scottish Highlands have never looked so eerily, threateningly beautiful. So it’s frustrating that Macdonald can’t sustain the momentum: in the last act, ‘The Eagle’ simply falls to pieces, abandoning narrative drive in favour of a weak, would-be rousing climactic setpiece, a limp finale to what could have been one of the year’s best British movies.