Robert the Bruce, 2019.
Directed by Richard Gray.
Starring Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Brandon Lessard, Talitha Bateman, Gabriel Bateman, Daniel Porter and Jared Harris.
Wandering the wilderness as an outlaw, Robert the Bruce bonds with a peasant family, who inspire him to continue his fight against the English.
There hasn’t exactly been a clamour for a sequel to Braveheart. It’s fair to say its reputation has soured since it romped to victory at the Oscars back in 1996, scoring five gongs including Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson. It’s now largely deemed an entertaining historical epic, but one lacking in any sort of historical care and attention. Robert the Bruce isn’t quite a sequel in the traditional sense, taking place in between William Wallace’s execution and the Scottish victory at Bannockburn. It’s a more methodical, thoughtful period piece that has merit far beyond its status as a belated sequel.
Angus Macfadyen reprises his role as the Scottish king, whom we meet in 1306 after an act of brutality on church grounds transforms him into an outlaw with a bounty on his head – a sort of John McWick. He stumbles on to the land of peasant woman Morag (Anna Hutchison) and her three children – budding blacksmith Carney (Brandon Lessard), archer Iver (Talitha Bateman) and the youngest Scot (Gabriel Bateman). They nurse him back to health, despite the risk helping him poses to them, with soldiers loyal to the English circling nearby.
The spectre of William Wallace looms large over the first act of Robert the Bruce, with Jared Harris’ crooked noble goading Robert with the fact he will never have Wallace’s support from the people. Macfadyen certainly plays Robert as a man carrying weight on his shoulders and unsure whether he can continue. It’s a taciturn performance of weariness and struggle, with Macfadyen given a licence for nuance that was never given to Robert in Braveheart.
There’s a gentle beauty to this film, with John Garrett’s handsome, bright cinematography making the most of the vibrant, colourful Scottish landscapes. So fascinated, in fact, is the movie with these stunning vistas that it’s prone to meandering. There’s a minimum of plot here, and there are languors in the film as a result. The first 45 minutes or so moves rather slowly, including the famed interaction between Robert and a spider, but it comes together into something more recognisable and engaging when he meets the peasant family.
It’s intriguing to see this military leader spending most of his time bonding with a family, and specifically one with so many connections, both positive and negative, to his tenure as King of Scots. The relationship is given space and time to grow and develop organically, with Hutchison terrific as the matriarch holding her family together despite insidious pressure from the male members of her extended family. Macfadyen is a broken, defeated man here and not the symbol of defiant rebellion that Wallace was in Braveheart or even that Chris Pine portrayed as his own take on Robert the Bruce in Netflix’s Outlaw King.
This is an unshowy movie to a fault and the late in the day action scenes lack the lavish extravagance of the best historical battlefield scenes. While director Richard Gray’s subdued, melancholy tone suits the scenes of quasi-familial interaction, it doesn’t fit when the swords start to clang and the heads begin to roll in the third act. This is a very variable piece of work, with impressive highs and slightly dull lows. Braveheart fans might not find the follow-up they want, but viewers in the market for a quietly intelligent historical drama will be more than satisfied.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.