Film based on Sutcliff's 1954 teen novel

“The Last King of Scotland” helmer Kevin Macdonald has lined up the epic Roman drama “The Eagle of the Ninth” as his next project after he finishes the Brad Pitt starrer “State of Play,” which he’s preparing to shoot for Universal.

“Eagle of the Ninth,” which Macdonald plans to direct early next year, is adapted by Jeremy Brock, co-writer of “Last King of Scotland,” from the classic 1954 teen novel by Rosemary Sutcliff. Producer is Duncan Kenworthy (“Notting Hill”).

Set in Britain during the 2nd century A.D., it’s the story of a wounded Roman soldier and his Celtic slave who embark on a perilous journey into the far north to discover what happened the Ninth Legion, which went on a mission into the wilds of Scotland 15 years earlier and never came back.

The soldier’s father was the legion’s general, and his disappearance, along with the loss of the legion’s symbol, the eponymous eagle, cast a stain upon his family.

Kenworthy has been developing the project for several years. He chose Macdonald as the director because of his background in documentaries such as the Oscar-winning “One Day in September” and “Touching the Void.”

“I really wanted the audience to feel they are there, that it’s very real. It’s a journey into the heart of darkness, two men heading into the wilderness of the Highlands. It’s wet, bloody, violent and uncomfortable, and who better to do that than a documentary director?” Kenworthy says.

In part, this was a reaction by Kenworthy against recent sword and sandal epics such as “Troy” and “Alexander.” “I was tired of inflated movies filled with CGI armies and navies that you don’t really believe in, presenting fake versions of culture,” he says.

“Duncan and I shared memories of the book as one of our favorite childhood novels,” Macdonald says. “I pleaded with him to let me do it, and he finally gave in. There has been this glut of huge-scale sword and sandal movies, but we want to do this in a very gutsy, visceral way. I see it as a Western — it’s ‘The Searchers’ meets ‘Apocalypto’ set in Scotland, where the landscape is the dominant production value.”

Kenworthy expects to split the shooting between Scotland and cheaper locations in Eastern Europe, most likely Romania.

According to Kenworthy, the project, backed by Film4, is already the target of competing offers from the U.S. majors and their specialty arms. He’s looking to split international and domestic rights between two studios, but also to raise significant coin from British public financiers such as the U.K. Film Council and Scottish Screen.

This will be Kenworthy’s first movie since the last Richard Curtis pic “Love Actually” in 2003. He took a extended break from making films to throw himself full time into his role as chairman of the British Academy of Film & TV Arts, but now that his two-year term is finished he is returning to producing via his company Toledo Prods.

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