Alba gu bràth! – Robert the Bruce (Film Review)

Rating:

Your attention, please. I’m starting this review with a little PSA for everyone. Are you sitting comfortably?

Good.

This is not a Braveheart (1995) sequel. Please stop calling it that.

Yes, Angus Macfadyen reprises his role as the famous Scottish king, but Robert the Bruce (2019) is by no shape or form a sequel to Braveheart. Macfadyen is just playing the same historical character he did 24 years ago. Maybe he feels they didn’t do Bruce justice in Gibson’s movie. Perhaps this is community service for past historical inaccuracy. Whichever the reason it’s not a sequel.

Okay, is that clear? Fine, let’s continue.

Opening with mother Morag (Anna Hutchison) telling her son Scot (Gabriel Bateman) about the historical and bloody meeting/ambush between Bruce and John Comyn (Jared Harris) we get a rundown of the exposition. William Wallace is dead, Bruce is now king, but after six years and as many defeats by the English he is on the run with dreams of an independent Scottish kingdom all but dashed. Broken, Bruce dismisses his remaining men and heads into the wilds of Scotland. With a bounty on his head, Bruce is attacked by former allies and is forced to hide, injured, in a cave near Morag’s farm. The film then shifts to Morag and her family which includes nephew Carney (Brandon Lessard) and niece Iver (Talitha Eliana Bateman). Despite their clan’s loyalty to the Comyn, they care for the injured Bruce while Morag’s brother-in-law, the sheriff Brandubh (Zach McGowan) hunts him down for personal reasons.

Okay, despite it not being a sequel to Braveheart, it is going to be held up against it.  More so than Outlaw King (2018). So for a start, Bruce is a far more historically accurate film than Braveheart. That is damning with faint praise, however. But you know what, I might be a massive history nerd, but I’m not going to scrutinise this for every little detail of historical inaccuracy.

Which there are many. Like, a load.

But they did get the fact about Scots not wearing kilts during this period correct, which is an automatic gold star. But we’re not going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about whether or not this is a good film.

It is. A really good, well-made film.

The story takes its inspiration from accounts of Bruce hiding in the winter months when his campaign faced defeat. They even include the legend of Bruce watching a spider spin its web and learning perseverance. What has that got to do with the rest of the film? It lifts it out of the standard historical epics. It’s not a historical action epic at all. There are no set-piece battles scenes, nothing we’ve come to expect from films set during the medieval period. If anything, this is a period piece, a character-driven film focusing on the lives of a handful of people during an era of upheaval. It doesn’t shy away from historical facts such as children being forced to fight and die during the period. Bruce, for the most part, is not the protagonist, more an observer. It’s Morag and her family that are our focus while Bruce is there to learn from them. Each of them has been personally touched by the war and have had loved ones lay down their lives for another’s cause. Brandubh’s hatred of Bruce comes not from clan allegiance but out of his anger that his brother died for Bruce.

It’s not without its issues though. For one, Jared Harris is criminally underused through this film. He owns the few minutes he’s in it and should have had a much more significant role throughout. Either another character or flashbacks to Comyn, and it feels like such a missed opportunity. There is also a subplot were Morag is told of a premonition about Scot’s destiny by a local wise woman/witch/plot McGuffin, at the end, the symbolism of it makes sense to a degree, if a little on the nose, but in a film trying to be grounded in history it sticks out like a ruptured appendix.

But the acting’s solid, the characters are, for the most part, well rounded. It’s beautifully shot and has an excellent music score, and it’s a step up on recent historical films.

Dir: Richard Gray
Scr: Eric Belgau, Angus Macfadyen
Cast: Anna Hutchison, Angus Macfadyen, Gabriel Bateman, Brandon Lessard, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Zach McGowan
Prd: Richard Gray, Anna Hutchison,
DOP: John Garrett
Music: Mel Elias
Country: United States
Runtime: 124 minutes

Robert the Bruce is in UK Cinemas now.

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