Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2018. Sigma Films, Anonymous Content, Clockwork Sessions. Screenplay by Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes, additional writing by David Harrower, Mark Bomback. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Produced by Gillian Berrie. Music by Barry Burns, Tony Doogan, Greg Lawson, Raymond MacDonald, David Mackenzie, Lucie Treacher. Production Design by Donald Graham Burt. Costume Design by Jane Petrie. Film Editing by Jake Roberts. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
Following William Wallace’s unsuccessful uprising against Edward I’s takeover of Scotland, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) decides to raise an army and fight for his nation’s independence. Edward (a wonderful Stephen Dillane) has taken advantage of an unclear succession to the throne and claimed the nation for himself, which many Scottish nobles have decided serves their interests best, but Robert disagrees and appeals to them for support; his status as the rightful king of Scotland is its own muddled affair thanks to the rivalry of John Comyn, whom Robert dispatches to his grave with relative ease before engaging England in all-out war. David Mackenzie’s biopic of a venerated figure in Scottish history does the man no shame, it’s a watchable historical epic with as many giant battles as it is an opportunity for guys to stand around looking terrific in muddy capes and filthy hair. Unfortunately it also lacks spirit, doing away with all the shameless, historically inaccurate flights of fancy that Mel Gibson indulged himself in when he made Braveheart, not to mention delivering a far less homophobic portrayal of Edward II, but never balancing personal drama and action as easily as Gibson’s film did. Trying to make the central figure, played with admirable restraint by Pine (who never overdoes either his accent or his dramatic prowess), into someone palatable for the sensitive modern age produces some odd incongruities as well, it’s great that he respects his wife’s mind and waits to have sex with her well after their wedding night, but it feels odd that he commits murder with such ease and we’re expected to just accept it as a momentary impulse, one easily forgotten thanks to his overall goals and the fact that it was a different time. Florence Pugh makes the most of her role as Elizabeth Burgh, but she’s nowhere near the flashing intensity that Sophie Marceau brought to being The Girl in a guy movie, and between stretching out her participation with some fiery dialogue before hanging her to dry in a cage, and the sanitation of her husband, this one feels closer to an episode of Outlander than a compelling historical epic.