This review includes spoilers. For other DustyReviews movie reviews, click HERE.
Dusty: Did the movie review bloggers give it a spicy review? “YASSS Princess,” “it hits different today,” “big yikes,” “it’s a vibe,” …?
Young Readers: I haven’t read a Braveheart review.
Dusty: You haven’t read it? Well that’s something we shall have to remedy, isn’t it?
Director: Mel Gibson
Writer: Randall Wallace
Stars: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfadyen, Catherine McCormack
Run time: 2 hours, 58 minutes
Release date: May 24, 1995
In 1280, King Edward “Longshanks” invades and conquers Scotland following the death of Alexander III of Scotland, who left no heir to the throne. Young William Wallace witnesses Longshanks’ execution of several Scottish nobles, suffers the deaths of his father and brother fighting against the English, and is taken abroad on a pilgrimage throughout Europe by his paternal uncle Argyle, who has Wallace educated.
Years later, Longshanks grants his noblemen land and privileges in Scotland, including jus primae noctis. Meanwhile, a grown Wallace returns to Scotland and falls in love with his childhood friend Murron MacClannough, and the two marry in secret. Wallace rescues Murron from being raped by English soldiers, but as Wallace fights off the soldiers Murron is captured and publicly executed. In retribution, Wallace leads his clan to fight the English garrison in his hometown and sends the surviving garrison back to England with a message of rebellion for Longshanks.
Longshanks orders his son Prince Edward to stop Wallace by any means necessary while he visits the French King to secure England’s alliance with France. Alongside his friend Hamish, Wallace rebels against the English, and as his legend spreads, hundreds of Scots from the surrounding clans join him. Wallace leads his army to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge where he decapitates the English commander Cheltham, and sacks York after Prince Edward fails to send reinforcements there, killing Longshanks’ nephew whose severed head is sent to the king. Wallace seeks the assistance of Robert the Bruce, the son of nobleman Robert the Elder, a contender for the Scottish crown. Robert is dominated by his leper father, who wishes to secure the Scottish throne for his son by submitting to the English. Worried by the threat of the rebellion, Longshanks sends his son’s wife Isabella of France to try to negotiate with Wallace as a distraction for the landing of another invasion force in Scotland.
After meeting him in person, Isabella becomes enamored of Wallace. She warns him of the coming invasion, and Wallace implores the Scottish nobility to take immediate action to counter the threat and take back their country, asking Robert the Bruce to lead. Leading the English army himself, Longshanks confronts the Scots at Falkirk. During the battle, Scottish noblemen Mornay and Lochlan, having been bribed by Longshanks, withdraw their men, resulting in Wallace’s army being routed and the death of Hamish’s father, Campbell. Wallace is further betrayed when he discovers Robert the Bruce was fighting alongside Longshanks; after the battle, seeing the damage he helped do to his countrymen, Robert reprimands his father and vows never to be on the wrong side again.
Wallace kills Lochlan and Mornay for their betrayal, and wages a guerrilla war against the English assisted by Isabella, with whom he eventually has an affair. Robert sets up a meeting with Wallace in Edinburgh, but Robert’s father conspires with other nobles to capture and hand over Wallace to the English. Learning of his treachery, Robert disowns and banishes his father. Isabella exacts revenge on the now terminally ill Longshanks, who can no longer speak, by telling him that his bloodline will be destroyed upon his death as she is pregnant with Wallace’s child and will ensure that Prince Edward spends as short a time as possible on the throne before Wallace’s child replaces him.
In London, Wallace is brought before an English magistrate, tried for high treason, and condemned to public torture and beheading. Even whilst being hanged, drawn and quartered, Wallace refuses to submit to the king. The watching crowd, deeply moved by the Scotsman’s valor, begin crying for mercy on Wallace’s behalf. The magistrate offers him one final chance, asking him only to utter the word, “Mercy”, and be granted a quick death. Wallace instead shouts, “Freedom!”, and his cry rings through the square, the dying Longshanks hearing it. Before being beheaded, Wallace sees a vision of Murron in the crowd, smiling at him.
In 1314, Robert, now Scotland’s king, leads a Scottish army before a ceremonial line of English troops on the fields of Bannockburn, where he is supposed to formally accept English rule. Instead, he invokes Wallace’s memory, imploring his men to fight with him as they did with Wallace. Hamish throws Wallace’s sword point-down in front of the English army, and he and the Scots chant Wallace’s name as Robert leads them into battle against the English, winning the Scots their freedom.
Braveheart is a 1995 historical war drama directed, produced, and starring Mel Gibson. Gibson portrays Sir William Wallace, a late-13th century Scottish commoner, turned revenging warrior, who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. The film also stars Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan and Catherine McCormack. The story from the film is inspired by Blind Harry’s 15th century epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace and was adapted for the screen by Randall Wallace.
The movie was nominated for ten academy awards, winning five, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup. Upon a re-watch, all of those accolades continue to stand the test of time. The movie is beautiful, its sound track is wonderful, and the film resonates in a timeless, fairy-tale like way.
Despite being a historical war drama, the story itself is only loosely based on actual history. The story acknowledges as much in its opening lines.
“I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes.”
The rest of the film mythologizes the historical Wallace – and in so doing changes a few of the details from history to make that happen – but I loved the story and how it was told.
Braveheart is a story of a populist uprising, led by a commoner, in the aftermath of English noble corruption running too amok in Scotland. The film is a full-throated condemnation of tyranny and also a condemnation of elites in general (nobles and royalty) more generally. The story is also about how one well-educated man, consumed with passion, can change the course of history by infecting others with his passion and worldview. These themes are timeless and relatable. Braveheart is a great movie and I enjoyed it immensely.
What Does Not Work:
- Mel Gibson was thirty-eight when this was filmed, and he portrays a William Wallace who is supposed to be, at least initially, in his early twenties. During the love story sequence in the film, the age gap becomes confusing. The audience has to infer his age based on circumstances (everyone calling him “Young Wallace,” Murron still living at home with her parents, etc.)
- The portrayal of Longshanks’ son as a weak, incompetent, homosexual would likely not play well with modern audiences. Were there people like this in history? No doubt. Are those stories to which modern audiences will respond well today? Probably not. However, the weakling prince was not a featured on-screen character in the film, too often, and is therefore not too distracting on the re-watch.
- The end of the movie is confusing. If Robert the Bruce is crowned King of Scotland, why is the battle to end the film necessary? His Kingship still likely left Scotland under the thumb of England, and perhaps the battle changed that dynamic, but this situation is not clarified very well. I also find it noteworthy that had anyone informed Wallace of Longshanks’ illness, he might have held off on the meeting that led to his arrest until after the King died. I do not mind that nobody told him, but one line of dialogue explaining why the Princess did not send him word would have helped.
- The performances by the cast are outstanding, across the board. I particularly enjoyed Patrick McGoohan’s “Longshanks.” He imbues the character with gravitas, humor, a sinister cruelty, and he absolutely dominates every scene he is in.
I also really loved Stephen, the Irishman. That character – insane, but also not – really could have fallen flat and failed to work, but David O’Hara brought him to life and made it work.
Mel Gibson was great as William Wallace. Playing a character burning out of control with passion and rage is right in his wheelhouse as an actor. He sells his love for Murron as an all-consuming love, born out of a tender moment during the funeral of Malcolm Wallace. This helps him to sell Wallace’s passion for freedom, and his almost animalistic rage and desire for revenge, as those moments come up later in the film. The victory scene, after Wallace wins the film’s first battle, is particularly effective. Wallace looks almost inhuman, screaming wordlessly in triumph, with his face covered in blue paint and blood.
Each of the main cast has an opportunity to get a fully fleshed out characterization, with light-hearted scenes, heartbreak, and rage. The effect is a very emotionally immersive movie experience.
- The cinematography and score were so good, and elevated the film so much, that I can almost believe the movie would have worked regardless of the story. [Seriously, just imagine The Teletubbies with this cinematography and score – it would be amazing.]
- Murron’s murder works… in the sense that it still filled me with rage, despite knowing that it was coming, and fully invested me in the story that followed. Thatwhole moment was well done and well acted.
- The choice to tell the story, more as a myth than as a straight historical war drama, made the film better. That choice made suspension of disbelief easier and more enjoyable. Can he ride right into a castle and kill a betraying noble? Of course. Can he – as a novice general – out maneuver the English time and again? Of course. Can he withstanding brutal torture? Of course. The screenplay even has fun with that, too.
“William Wallace is seven feet tall!”
I loved each reappearance of Murron after her death. I loved the ridiculous subplot regarding Stephen and the Irish. I loved that at the end of the film, the audience is left believing that Wallace’s heir will eventually claim Longshanks’ throne.
Young William: I can fight.
Malcolm Wallace: I know. I know you can fight. But it’s our wits that make us men.
Malcolm Wallace: Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.
Longshanks : The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.
Stephen: [starts laughing] Him? That can’t be William Wallace. I’m *prettier* than this man!
[to the sky]
Stephen: Alright, Father, I’ll ask him.
Stephen: If I risk my neck for you, will I get a chance to kill Englishmen?
Hamish: Is your father a ghost, or do you converse with the Almighty?
Stephen: In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God.
William Wallace: Aye, 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!
Longshanks : Not my gentle son. The mere sight of him would only encourage an enemy to take over the whole country. So whom do I send?
Longshanks : Who is this person who speaks to me as though I needed his advice?
William Wallace: Every man dies, not every man truly lives.
Magistrate: The prisoner wishes to say a word.
William Wallace: Freeeedommm!
Braveheart is a great, timeless, highly quotable film and it is worth the three hour run time on a re-watch.
I will caution that the R-rating is well-earned. The movie contains a lot of realistic violence (war violence and sexual violence), brief scenes of nudity, along with adult language and themes. I did not feel as though any of these moments were gratuitous. They drove the narrative forward throughout. However, the volume of all of it was significant.
Assuming that you are an adult, and prepared for the grittiness of a historical war drama, I recommend tuning in for this movie and then letting me know what you think.