– By Maria Andress –
Not for the faint of heart, Netflix’s “Outlaw King” starring Chris Pine might just be the best Scottish film on the scene as far as historical portrayal goes. This is a mature film—rated R for some nudity (mostly a sex scene that is easily skipped), some language, and the obvious gore of that period’s wars—but it is also a film very worth watching for its true story.
This film is by far one of the most historically accurate out there. Whereas the passionate but inaccurate “Braveheart” raises the status of William Wallace to that of a legendary hero, “Outlaw King” picks up just before Wallace is hung, drawn, quartered and displayed outside four cities in Scotland and follows historical annals much more closely. Obviously dialogue (including Bruce’s speech before the Battle of Loudoun Hill) has had some necessary liberties taken with it. Other details have been slightly consolidated.
For instance, Elizabeth de Burgh was indeed imprisoned (for eight years to be exact until around 1314) under solitary confinement, but it was actually the Bruce’s sister Mary and the Countess Isabella MacDuff that were kept in cages. The Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1304 and the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 have been slightly combined in the film as Edward I died just after Loudoun Hill and it was Valence who was defeated at Loudoun while Edward II was roundly trumped and dragged from Bannockburn nearly a decade later.
At the same time, the Loudoun Hill odds were indeed 3,000 to 600 and by all accounts the Douglas did earn his fearsome title there. Among other things, the film also gives beautiful focus to the Bruce’s familial love and fidelity seen in his dedication to his first wife who died after bearing his daughter Marjorie and then finally his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh.
The film also neatly portrays the murder of John Comyn in a sanctuary and how that sacrilege affected the loyalty to Bruce which culminated in the Declaration of Arbroath and the Pope’s blessing. And history geeks can’t help but indulge in a moment of triumphant laughter when “Filmed on location entirely in Scotland (according to the borders of 1320)” rolls across the credits.
Overall, the film spans the years 1304-1314, and in that writer-director-producer David Mackenzie does a phenomenal job of tying in so many characters and timelines without losing the personal feuds, foibles, and main events that history and tradition have handed down.
In fact, one of the main reasons I waited with anticipation and some trepidation for this film is because of personal family history and tradition. According to family heritage, my ancestors fought with Robert Bruce. However personal this reason may be, the fact is that this film delightfully did not glorify the time period of Robert “the Bruce” and instead showed the mud and the slog and the ordinary daily living aspects of 12th century Scotland.
Don’t get me wrong, we need all those King Arthur, Robin Hood, and William Wallace legends to thrive on as well. However, it’s much easier to put oneself in one’s predecessor’s shoes and actually comprehend what they lived through with the basics.
For those who don’t have ancestors who fought on those Scottish fields of glory (aka swampy, gory, but passionate battlefields where victory sometimes belonged to the Gaels), this film is a more substantial “day-in-the-life” view than the few other conscientiously made films on this period.
Another strength of the film is its compelling portrayal of women. The main woman in this film is Robert the Bruce’s wife Elizabeth de Burgh (played by Florence Pugh), and she is well worthy of the title Queen of Scotland. From a young girl in an arranged political marriage to a man still mourning the loss of his first wife, she works her way into not only his life but also Robert Bruce’s heart and the heart of his first daughter Marjorie. Treading a political world of pitched battles between men, Elizabeth voices her own opinions to Robert but also casts her lot with him and holds true.
Throughout the story she is at once Queen of Scotland, mother, fugitive, prisoner, ally, and unwavering wife. Despite solitary confinement, torture, and trickery, she refuses to abandon either Scotland or its king her husband. The ending scene of the film comes as a just moment of triumph for two people who in very different ways held fast as only a woman and only a man could to a vision they made their own.
Based on those things alone, it’s no surprise that history buffs are calling this film the new (historical) “Braveheart”. As a big fan of all things medieval, historical, and legendary, I certainly agree that it deserves that title.
About the Author
Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.