• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:June 23, 2020

Braveheart: Not a History Lesson


braveheartAs the story goes, American writer Randall Wallace made a trip to Scotland and came upon a statue at the entrance of Edinburgh Castle. Since the statue bore the name of Wallace, the writer was intrigued. This was not a relative, but William Wallace, the great Scottish war hero. Having never heard of him, the writer read up on William Wallace and crafted a screenplay that made his career; an Oscar nomination and later successful directing stints followed. However, it would seem that Randall Wallace is not terribly interested in history.

Going to war for what he believes in
Near the end of the 13th century, Scotland finds itself without an heir to the throne. The king of England, Edward “Longshanks” (Patrick McGoohan), betrays a prominent group of Scottish noblemen and hangs them all in a barn, including the father and brother of young William Wallace. The boy is taken abroad by his uncle (Brian Cox) who gives him an education and teaches him how to go to war for what he believes in. As a grown man, Wallace returns to Scotland, which is now suffering under English oppression. He secretly marries the girl (Catherine McCormack) he’s been in love with since he was a child… but the Englishmen soon give him a reason to rebel.

Wallace saves his wife from being raped by English soldiers, but she’s eventually captured and publicly executed. Enraged, Wallace leads his clan to slaughter the whole garrison…

Numerous errors
has sometimes been called one of the most inaccurate historical epics ever made. The errors are numerous, from the Scots wearing kilts (hundreds of years before it became a tradition) to the absence of an actual bridge in the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge, to Isabelle of France never actually meeting Wallace. The filmmakers have acknowledged the errors and offered an obvious explanation – the changes they made were motivated by a desire to above all create a cinematic experience that thrilled.

The problem is that so many have made a big deal out of using the film as a history lesson, which is a silly thing to do. The only right way to watch Braveheart is to accept it as a broad, very well made Hollywood epic that delivers what you expect – grand sentiments and speeches, a compelling hero, hugely entertaining supporting parts, battles, love affairs, etc. All accompanied by beautiful cinematography and a swelling music score; James Horner outdoes himself in the latter part and his sweeping music makes several sequences, especially near the end, overwhelmingly powerful. This is only Mel Gibson’s second directorial outing (after The Man Without a Face (1993)), but he proved himself an artist with a great eye for visual manipulation of the audience. Wearing his passion on his sleeve, Gibson doesn’t hold back in the brutal, blood-soaked battles, nor in the emotions evident in Wallace’s ultimate fate.

Gibson always considered himself too old to play Wallace, but the studio demanded his star power and he’s right for a part that requires a certain madness, the scary charisma of a fundamentalist. He’s matched by McGoohan, superbly evil as King Edward I.

Gibson was accused of both homophobia and anglophobia; in the latter case it was likely reinforced by The Patriot (2000). Considering the actor’s later anti-Semitic outbursts, it’s easy to assume that where there is smoke there is fire… but the accusations against him regarding this film are exaggerated. This is good vs. evil painted on a huge canvas, and the brushwork is exquisite.

Braveheart 1995-U.S. 177 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey, Alan Ladd, Jr. Directed by Mel Gibson. Screenplay: Randall Wallace. Cinematography: John Toll. Music: James Horner. Costume Design: Charles Knode. Cast: Mel Gibson (William Wallace), Sophie Marceau (Isabella), Patrick McGoohan (Edward “Longshanks”), Catherine McCormack, Brendan Gleeson, James Cosmo… Brian Cox.

Trivia: Sean Connery was allegedly considered for a role. Followed by a spin-off movie, Robert the Bruce (2019). 

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Makeup, Sound Effects Editing. Golden Globes: Best Director. BAFTA: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound. 

Quote: “Fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… our freedom!” (Gibson)

Last word: “It wasn’t necessarily authentic. Some of the stuff I read about Wallace suggests he wasn’t as nice as we saw him up there. We romanticised it a bit, but that’s the language of film – you have to make it cinematically acceptable. He had his faults, but we shifted the balance a bit, because someone’s got to be the good guys and the bad guys. It’s the way stories are told – they always have a bias and a point of view.” (Gibson, Orange)



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