Netflix’s “Outlaw King” is essentially the sequel to “Braveheart.”
Robert the Bruce is one of the main characters in Mel Gibson’s epic of Scottish freedom. But in that Oscar-winning story he’s mostly a bystander to the legend of William Wallace (Mel Gibson).
“Braveheart” is similar to “300” in that each romanticized a “final stand” against overwhelming tyranny. Of course Wallace’s version ended with torture and martyrdom, whereas Leonidas of Sparta was annihilated fighting the Persian empire at the pass of Thermopylae.
Both films also wrap with a brief recounting of a far more significant battle within their respective wars. For the Greeks it was the Battle of Platea where the Persians were finally defeated. The Scots’ version? The Battle of Bannockburn essentially broke the English and opened them to eventual defeat.
The entirety of those battles is summed up with a few beautiful sentences, almost like a coda, in “Braveheart”’ — Robert the Bruce:
“After his execution, the body of William Wallace was torn to pieces. His head was mounted on London Bridge. His limbs were sent to the four corners of Britain as a warning. The effect it had was great… but it was not the effect that Longshanks planned. And I rode out to pay homage to the armies of England’s new king, and to accept his endorsement of my crown.”
And then director Gibson magnificently ends the tale as Wallace speaks from beyond the grave:
“In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland -- starving and outnumbered -- charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.”
“Outlaw King” is essentially built around those two paragraphs.
Netflix’s “Outlaw King” of course is not literally connected to Braveheart, as if the streaming giant craved a franchise of some kind. But it does take up the mantle laid down by Gibson.
In terms of tone and theme, it’s far more in the vein of George R.R. Martin than Randall Wallace (“Braveheart’s” screenwriter). This story is far darker than “Braveheart,” too, focusing more on the politics and actual history.
“Braveheart” depicted realistic violence, though the film’s tone proved both romantic and tragic. “Outlaw King” has none of that poetry. Instead, we’re treated to a good story well told.
This kind of historic epic used to be par for the course in Hollywood. At some point if you were going to make a period piece there had to be some artistic pretensions.
Anthony Mann is perhaps the best exemplification of this old professionalism, witness his excellent westerns like “The Naked Spur.” Maybe that’s why period films are now neglected. At some point they all seem to suffer from “The English Patient” syndrome, over-sexed, over-individualized psycho dramas.
“Braveheart” has some of that going on as well, but Gibson and screenwriter Wallace grounded their film in that older form of storytelling. “Braveheart” never gets bogged down. Each scene logically leads to the next.
This also applies to “Outlaw King.”
The Netflix original avoids the mythological aspects of the Scottish war for independence. There’s no kilts, for one thing. “Braveheart” is infamous among history buffs for featuring the kilt so prominently.
In fact some suggest Wallace fought naked with only that epic blue paint between his skin and the elements, an unlikely theory all the same.
Both visions of the Scots are essentially romanticized. One makes them an icon of contemporary Scotch identity and the other a primitive Celtic warrior, a Rousseau perspective where goodness comes from purifying oneself of society and modernity.
“Outlaw King” does not engage in either tendency. In many ways it is a very cool film when compared to Gibson’s passionate telling. Much of that was accomplished by James Horner’s magnificent score.
The truth? There’s just more heat in the Scotch heart for Wallace than Bruce. Wallace is a Scotsmen. Bruce’s legacy ultimately is about unity between the nations that compose great Britain. His descendants are all mixed up in the English monarchy.
To demonstrate the folk passion for their hero William Wallace I present this wonderful anecdote. When William’s descendant Randall Wallace began getting together the people he needed to make “Braveheart” he called up some of the Scots he wanted for the battle scenes.
Over the phone he told one of these men that he was making a movie about Wallace. Then there was a long silence on the other line. Randall Wallace finally asked if the man was still there.
He said “Aye.” Then more more silence.
Clearly the man was moved. Then the gentleman said calmly but firmly, “If anyone needs to die in order for this movie to get made…it’s not a problem.”
In other words Wallace was important to these men. Many of which had done time in “English” prisons. And clearly “Braveheart” was, in many ways, an assault on liberal western values. It was a parable about how elite progress and civility are in some ways a farce.
Conversely “Outlaw King” can be seen as a cool elite response to Brexit. An attempt to wash ones hands of populism. Wallace is the folk hero, a populist warrior. Bruce was the realist who actually accomplished what Wallace started with his wildness. But either way both films are “anti English” in some regard.
— Outlaw King (@OutlawKing) November 9, 2018
The truth is that both visions of Scottish Independence are actually deeply conservative. Each touches on key aspects of human nature, one more mythological, the other more realist. Populism isn’t really an intrinsic good. The whole point of Republican governance is to protect the people from themselves and from their governments. Tyranny is tyranny, whatever the source may be.
And while I’m an American who supported Brexit, it has turned into a remarkably complicated debacle. Prime Minister Theresa May seems to be ill equipped to make the deal palatable. At this point it looks as if they may get none of the benefits of voting within the EU system and yet still maintain all the burdens of belonging to it.
Just because the people want something doesn’t make it right. Timing and planning are everything. That requires patience. Wallace was impatient. And its not hard to see why. Its difficult to be patient in the face of evil.
But Robert Bruce didn’t have the luxury of being a barbarian. He was a King. And, as Wallace says in “Braveheart,” that is supposed to mean the opposite of selfishness.
“There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.”
Rulers are servants, not lords. The Carmen Christi of Paul’s Letter to Philipi explains this perfectly by telling us that the divine Lord of the universe became a servant so that humanity might become divine. Kings are servants of the people, not gods to whom the people owe service. The divine right of Kings was not theological fascism but rather Christological sacrifice. Queen Mary said it best in Netflix’s “The Crown”:
“Monarchy is a calling from God. That’s why you’re crowned in an abbey, not a government building, why you’re anointed, not appointed. It’s an archbishop who puts the crown on your head, not a minister or public servant, which means you’re answerable to God in your duty, not the public.”
And for any American reading this and thinking, “this person is mad to believe that Kings can be good,” just remember that the main point of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine was anti monarchy. And Paine was the father of the American left, not American conservatism.
He equated the tyrannical French revolution with our beautiful war for independence, because in his mind both were about equality. To this all true Patriots must say a hearty and absolute no. One was about justice and freedom and one was about violent equality. And if you aren’t sure which was which then you are to be pitied most mightily.
FAST FACT: ‘Outlaw King’ director David Mackenzie sliced roughly 23 minutes from the film following a less than gracious reception at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year.
The American Revolution was actually a repudiation of the English Parliament, not King George. George was Rex Tyrannous not because he was a King but because he wasn’t a King. He chose to be a pure executive doing only what the Parliament told him to do.
We appealed to him as subjects of his Kingdom, as children to their Father. And he refused to save us from the tyranny of so called democracy. So after our true fathers “set their foot upon the neck of their king” as Calvin Coolidge so wondrously put it we created our executive branch with more power than any King of England had possessed in a hundred years.
Following Montesquieu we saw that there needed to be real division of real power within our government in order to save us from the dual tyrannies of government and the popular will. This story has mostly gone untold but thankfully you can find it contained with “The Royalist Revolution” by Eric Nelson.
And so “Outlaw King” is a very excellent compliment to “Braveheart.” In one we have passion and myth, Warrior Poetry if you will. In the other we have restraint and political complications.
And if that sounds boring I assure you it is not.
The key performances are by Pine and Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh. They are both subdued but perfect in their respective roles. In many ways the heart of this film is their marital sacrificial love. Their relationship is probably the most engaging aspect of the plot. Pugh is particularly heart melting. Great things can be expected from her in the future.
Overall the entire narrative is deeply satisfying. It’s one of the better projects Netflix has put together. The production feels very authentic and expensive, to put it crassly. But contrary to what some have said this doesn’t feel like an Oscar grab but an excellent, old school entertainment that we used to regularly get on the silver screen.