I should really cover more history here. The history of the Scots-English border region is the history of hillbillies.
Netflix’s recently released Outlaw/King starring Chris Pine spurred me to finally pick up my old review copy of Michael Penman’s Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots. I haven’t gotten very far, but Penman’s book is focused on the Bruce’s reign after Bannockburn, so William Wallace appears relatively early. And I can’t read about William Wallace without pulling out Braveheart. I took advantage of needing to grade a giant stack of essays to watch Outlaw/King and rewatch Braveheart.
Braveheart starts off right, with an R-rating for “brutal medieval violence.” It has two themes: stabbing people and liberty, which puts it squarely in my wheelhouse. It also holds a special place it my heart because it was maybe the last movie I saw in the theater with my dad. The initial theater run was limited and traveling 30 minutes and getting into an R-rated movie was still a bit of a tall order.
Braveheart is a great movie—well-acted, paced, told, everything—even if it does make only the vaguest nods toward the actual history and even if it does suffer from a bit of this-time-its-personal-itis (more on that in a bit).
The complex character of Robert the Bruce, and his portrayal by Angus MacFayden, is an underappreciated highlight of Braveheart, which is fitting given today’s theme. (MacFayden, by the way, is reprising his most famous role in another Robert the Bruce movie, with this one more directly positioned as a Braveheart sequel.)
5 of 5 Stars.
The parental guidelines promise “brutal war violence”—that’s a good start. Outlaw/King winds up being a bit of a sequel to Braveheart as well. (How could a movie about Robert the Bruce not be given Braveheart’s cultural resonance?)
Outlaw/King opens with Bruce bending the knee to Edward I. Wallace’s execution is a catalyst, if only because the reaction to it shows Bruce that the Scots are not as comfortable bending the knee as his fellow nobles. The real focus, though, is on the period between Bruce’s disastrous defeat in his first battle as king and his first victory in a pitched battle at Loudoun Hill. During that period he was truly an outlaw king. He also proved himself one of the great guerilla fighters of history.
I’m not expert on Scottish history, but you can tell Netflix took more care with the history. It takes care in particular with medieval mores and custom. (They’re still not smart enough to use night arrows though.) They weren’t kidding about the brutal war violence.
Outlaw/King is really damn good. I hate to say it, but it could have benefited from a longer runtime. The romance with Bruce’s second, arranged wife and the post-Methven misery porn Bruce endures are well developed. Bruce’s decision to turn on the English and his guerilla war are not.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
The most interesting contrast between the two movies is in how they handle romance. In Braveheart, Wallace initially refuses to fight and only changes his mind after his wife is killed. (Which undercuts him as a patriot hero, even if it may have basis in fact.) That romance is what wins him the help of Isabella of France and then allows Wallace to literally cuck Edward II. In Outlaw/King, Bruce initially sends his new wife away so he can deliberate with his brothers over how to respond to Wallace’s execution. But Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of an important ally of Edward I, chooses him. And she pays for it. When she is taken, Bruce doesn’t run off. He wants to, but his duty (and, frankly, his ambition) won’t allow it.