I actually forgot that today I was going fire up the old Netflix and take in a historical film — blame it on the fact that it’s a holiday and therefore doesn’t feel like a Monday, maybe? So instead I thought I would talk about one I saw relatively recently, 2011’s The Eagle.
Now, most criticism of this film has focused on two key points: first, it isn’t very faithful to the novel, and second, it isn’t very good.
But what I actually want to talk about today is the portrayal of the Picts in the film. In the movie, our hero travels north to find the lost Eagle of his father’s legion. He runs into some Picts, or “seal people,” as they’re called. They might not even be Picts, but what else they might be I don’t know. Britons of some kind, I guess.
Or maybe post-apocalyptic Inuit mud men. Observe:
Judge for yourself.
Now, I do not know what motivated the director to make these choices, but I have a theory, and I like it a little. Consider, if you will, Kingdom of Heaven. In that film, Ridley Scott exaggerated how well Christians and Muslims in the Crusader kingdoms got on during the period he was covering. His argument was that he needed to portray that the level of trust between the two groups was highly unusual — that the low-level squabbling of the period would have been as shocking to contemporary observers as full-on peace is to modern viewers. You can also see this in The Tudors, where the costume designers put Henry VIII in clothes that say “sexy athletic guy” to modern viewers, because the clothes that said “sexy athletic guy” to the Tudors would look crazy to us.
Now, again, I’m of two minds. On the one hand it’s fucked up. Here’s a little more of a reconstruction, although it’s a wee bit later.
So maybe the director is trying to make some kind of weird meta-point, or maybe on the other hand he’s just being a lame-o and covering shit with mud and skulls because he’s a lazy person who loves the familiar exotic.
But on the other other hand, fucking around with the representation of the Picts and turning them into fantasy animals is a grand old tradition. Check this bad boy out:
And what’s interesting is that that weird fantastic Pict commentary was intended to be compared to Native Americans, with the purpose of indicating to European readers that Native Americans were similar to Picts — while here we have Native Americans being used as the comparison to help the viewer understand Picts.