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Sunday May 19th 2024

The Eagle | 2011

The Eagle film location: Polbain, Scotland
The Eagle film location: the Seal People village: Polbain, Scotland | Photograph: wikimedia / Lynne Kirton

The Eagle of the title is the standard of the Roman Ninth Legion, lost on a mission in what is now Scotland along with 5,000 men.

Kevin MacDonald’s convincingly grimy and muddy adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel, sees Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), son of the legion’s commander, embark on a quest to retrieve the standard and restore his family’s reputation.

The film, benefits – like John Carter Of Mars did – from the great marketing ploy of having its original title, The Eagle Of The Ninth, reduced to the point of meaninglessness.

Set almost entirely in 2nd Century Roman Britain, the film uses the effective old Hollywood convention of giving the warring factions different accents – American for the Roman imperialists and English for the occupied British.

The ‘English’ scenes were filmed in the countryside around Budapest, Hungary, while everything north of Hadrian’s Wall, then the limit of empire, was filmed in Scotland. What interiors there were in the film – the fort and the villa – were built on location.

The small garrison at ‘Isca Dumnoniorum’ (modern-day Exeter, in the southwest of England), where Marcus arrives to take on his first command, was built in countryside at Petneházy Meadow, near Adyliget, northwest of Budapest.

This is the site of the first battle sequence, with British warriors attacking the fort. The sequence, which took took three nights and five days to film, with 300 extras and 12 chariots, took full advantage of the 360-degree field of vision.

Lake Velence, a nature reserve surrounded by beds of wild reeds, provided the setting for the quiet villa of Marcus’ Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland) at ‘Calleva’ (modern-day Silchester in Hampshire), where Marcus recuperates from his wounds.

The large house was constructed around a formal garden, and provided with a jetty on the edge of the lake.

A short walk away from the lake, the small provincial wooden Coliseum of ‘Calleva’ was built. It’s here that Marcus saves the life of British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), and thus finds himself with a loyal, if sullen, servant.

Lake Velence, the third largest lake in Hungary, is a popular holiday destination in Fejér county, close to the M7 motorway between Budapest and Székesfehérvár.

One non-British setting of the Hungarian locations was the briefly-glimpsed ‘Tuscan’ villa, used for the flashback sequences as young Marcus’s father says goodbye to him before setting off to lead the Ninth Legion on their final, fatal mission, which was created in Leányfalu.

A riverside village and holiday resort in Pest county, Leányfalu is about 15 miles north of Budapest, between the branch of the Small Danube (Kis-Duna) and the spurs of the Visegrád Hills.

After completion of filming in Hungary over the summer, the unit filmed the Scottish scenes against autumnal backdrops.

The journey north of Marcus and Esca used locations around the Loch Lomond area, including woodland, mountains, and lochs of Strachur, Glen Finlas, Glen Luss, Applecross and Kilpatrick Hills.

The dramatic gorge, in which he surviving Roman legionnaires face the fearsome Seal People (a fictitious west coast tribe), is Finnich Glen, known as the Devil’s Pulpit, on Carnock Burn, east of the A809 a couple of miles south of the village of Drymen. The camera, lighting and sound equipment had to be winched down to the base of the 80-foot gorge, while the crew themselves descended steps carved into the rock wall many years before.

The most breathtaking location must be the village of the Seal People, which was built half a mile up the hill of Meall an Fheadain, above the village of Polbain, west of Achiltibuie on the Coigach Peninsula, in the northwest Scottish Highlands. The scattering of islands, seeming to stretch off into infinity, are the Summer Isles (no, nothing to do with The Wicker Man, apart from the probable inspiration for the name).