- Run Time
- 2 hours 1 minute
VP Content Ratings
- 7 / 10
- 1 / 10
- Sex / Nudity
- 3 / 10
- Star Rating
Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, and say: Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.
If all we knew of Scottish history was what we saw in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, it would be that it was bloody and that William Wallace and his followers painted their faces blue and wore clothing similar to the Picts. David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King, which takes up where Gibson’s film leaves off, certainly is in agreement that the those were bloody times, but differs by showing that the Scots were not kilt-wearing, face-painted barbarians but attired as their English opponents in typical medieval clothing. And Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) was not the weak betrayer portrayed in Braveheart, but a true patriot who rose up against English tyranny after Wallace’s death. The charge of English tyranny both films agree upon, the English King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and his son Edward the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle) depicted as ruthless cold-hearted villains.
The film begins in 1304 just outside the besieged Stirling castle with King Edward forcing the newly defeated Scottish nobles to pledge their allegiance to him and agree to his rule. The most prominent are Robert the Bruce and John Comyn (Callan Mulvey) who had been rivals for the Scottish throne. William Wallace, having been defeated, is in hiding. The King tells Robert he is to be married to his goddaughter Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), and he rebuffs James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who is seeking the restoration of his land and titles. The sequence ends with Robert and young Prince Edward sparring with swords, and then we see a demonstration by King Edward of his huge siege machine, which hurls a large batch of Greek fire against the castle wall.
Later, when he has been captured, all that we see of William Wallace is the quarter part of his body displayed on a tall stake as a warning to any would-be rebel. (You might recall that Braveheart ended with Wallace’s terrible execution by being drawn and quartered by four horses.) This and the people’s growing displeasure over English taxes and the conscriptions of their sons into the army lead Robert to break his oath of fealty as he tries to convince other nobles to join him in throwing off the yoke of King Edward. When he meets with his rival John Comyn and the latter not only refuses to join him but says he will tell King Edward, Robert stabs him without warning. However, the murder is forgiven by the Scottish clergy, who agree to support him as king in exchange for his recognition of their authority.
There are a series of setbacks—military defeat of his army, the fleeing and captivity of his wife and daughter, death of his bothers, and more—but when his followers are reduced to a fleeing band of 50 and he adopts guerilla warfare tactics, the tide begins to turn. His triumph is the long and bloody battle that climaxes the film, one that combines the actual Battles of Loudoun Hill and Bannockburn. The swordfight between Robert and King Edward II (his father having did) is pure Hollywood, as is Robert’s decision of what to do with the defeated king. (Braveheart has been called by the London Times the “second most historical accurate film,” so I wonder how this history-ignoring film will be regarded.)
Director Mackenzie cut almost a half hour of the theatrical release (at the Toronto Film Festival), which makes the first half seem abrupt, especially the scenes involving him and wife Elizabeth. They do not consummate their marriage on their wedding night, he leaving her alone in their bedchamber. Though King Edward’s goddaughter, she comes around to her husband’s support as his fortune waxes and wanes. We know she has a good heart when we first see her by the kind way that she greets Robert’s daughter by his first wife, young Marjorie. During the dark days when Bruce and his followers are fleeing from King Edward, she becomes the girl’s protector when the pair are captured. How Bruce and his small army at last triumphs over the larger English force at the Battle of Loudoun Hill is thrilling, though it will not satisfy history buffs because it merges seven years of history and another battle, but hey, that would have added another half hour to the film.
Like virtually every medieval film, David Mackenzi’s stresses that the times were bloody and life for the peasant, whose misfortune it was to serve as a foot soldier, was cheap. It was their blood most often spilt to further the ambition of such men as Robert the Bruce or King Edward. Given the buckets of bloodshed, often with the clergy’s complicity or consent, it is astonishing to think that over in Italy a merchant’s young son was beginning a ministry of brother/sisterhood that taught love and peace. Was there a priest in Scotland or England who saw the conflict between the teachings of Christ and the violence wrought by those in power, as did Francis of Assisi? I suppose not, the church long before having been domesticated by the civil powers.
This review will be in the March issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.