If you are a fan of “Roman” movies, you might consider yourself lucky this year. Both Centurion and The Eagle have focused on the fate of the IX Legion (that’s ninth legion for the Roman numeral impaired).
The only piece of reliable historical information is that in second century AD, this legion was removed from the legion list. It was stationed in Britain, hence novelists ran wild with the idea that the whole legion perished in the Northern highlands (i.e. today’s Scotland). No amount of recent evidence about the Ninth appearing in the Rhine region has been deemed adequate so that storytellers move to greener pastures.
You could view the the movies in succession (like I did) starting with Centurion and watching the Eagle next (telling yourself, it’s now 9 years later). In Centurion, you witness the slaughter of Rome’s heavy infantry by the Pictish tribes and the hunt for the few Romans that survived. Which explains why no one knows what happened to the Ninth.
Except that in The Eagle, some survivors have actually set themselves in the highlands. One changed his name from Marcus Barbutus Ridiculus to the simpler “Guern”! So you see how it all comes together … the quest for simpler names.
The Eagle deals with the quest for the Holy Gr… I mean, the Ninth’s Eagle. One man and his slave go where no (Roman) man has gone before and came back to tell the tale. In short, the Eagle is recovered and delivered to the Senate’s British branch (preposterous last scene).
So what’s my recommendation? Should you see one or the other, or maybe both? The Eagle is the less annoying one by far. Except for the testudo formation in Act I and the Senate branch, the movie is generally true to the period.
Centurion, on the other hand, is basically a horror movie where everyone is dressed in rags (except in the opening battle where the legionaries still wear armor). These Romans drop four letter words every few lines and the Picts are mostly mute (especially Olga’s character). Do not expect any historical accuracy beyond the costumes… I mean rags.
I’d say that HBO’s ROME is still a better choice in terms of character development, intrigue, and overall “historical goodies”.