Academic helps ensure Roman film is correct

A NEW historical epic film about a lost Roman legion has the stamp of North East expertise.

Director of CIAS at Newcastle University, Lindsay Allason-Jones, who was the historical advisor for the upcoming film "The Eagle"
Director of CIAS at Newcastle University, Lindsay Allason-Jones, who was the historical advisor for the upcoming film "The Eagle"

A NEW historical epic film about a lost Roman legion has the stamp of North East expertise.

The $25m movie The Eagle, inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, opens in Britain on March 25.

And the film’s academic adviser is Newcastle University Roman expert Lindsay Allason-Jones.

The novel is based on what is now thought to be a myth – that the Ninth Legion vanished without trace after marching beyond Hadrian’s Wall into Scotland.

The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald, whose previous movies include The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and Touching the Void.

The Eagle follows a young Roman centurion called Marcus as he ventures beyond Hadrian’s Wall to discover the fate of the lost Ninth Legion, which had been led by his father.

Its cast includes Donald Sutherland and North East actor Jamie Bell, who starred in the role of Billy Elliot.

Lindsay has written 13 books on Roman topics and has appeared in TV programmes such as Meet the Ancestors and Time Team.

She was visited by The Eagle’s production team in 2008 when she was in the process of closing down the university’s Museum of Antiquities, whose collections moved to the Great North Museum. When asked to be the film’s historical advisor, Lindsay said: “ I agreed because I thought it would be very interesting to see how a film was put together from start to finish.

“It was fascinating to go from seeing the original script through to sorting out the details, meeting the cast and crew and dealing with the distributor’s publicity team.

“I was sent copies of the script and asked to comment, which was tricky because Rosemary Sutcliff was writing more than 50 years ago when our understanding of Roman Britain was very different.”

Lindsay pointed out historical flaws in the novel, such as the centurion being in charge of a fortress.

“In fact a centurion was only in charge of 80 men. I wanted to make the film as accurate as possible but there are some things you can’t bend because it is the job of the makers to produce an exciting film. But one that I couldn’t let through, although I was tempted for a split second, was ‘gladiolus’ instead of ‘gladius’ (the sword used by the Romans) in the publicity.

“I still have a lovely image of them running into battle waving their flowers every time I think about it.”

The movie was released in the United States last month and grossed $8.6m in its first weekend.

Lindsay said: “As academics we’re always told to do things which have impact and it suddenly dawned on me that, although my name is just another credit in a long line, of all the things I’ve done in my career this one probably has more impact than any of them.

“It’s a good film that cannot fail to interest people in the Romans.”

 

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