Braveheart (1995)


Grand epics like Braveheart don’t really appeal to me. They’re not all terrible, but I think a lot of recent ones get more credit than they deserve, this one included. (I’m also looking at you, Gladiator.)

Apparently Braveheart has been branded the most historically inaccurate movie in recent history. This is a big statement, but also true. Now, should movie goers expect 100% historical accuracy every single time they enter a theater? No; I’ll concede that some changes are necessary for pacing and clarification. But a lot of the changes made in this movie don’t really make sense to me. What little historians actually know about the real William Wallace could have made a rousing film. I just don’t know what Mel Gibson was thinking (but in all honesty, would you really want to know what an insane racist is thinking? Probably not.).

The most perplexing change to historical fact is how relations between Scotland and England are portrayed. Braveheart presents a world where Wallace has only ever known English occupation. In reality, Scotland was an independent kingdom during Wallace’s childhood. And it’s not like Edward I, a.k.a. Edward Longshanks, needed any Hollywood help to become a villain. He was invited by the Scots to help arbitrate a succession dispute, and then just took over. That’s a pretty dick move.* Maybe not “hey let’s send a bunch of lords to sleep with Scottish women on their wedding night” dickish, but there are ways to flesh out/embellish his actual transgressions to make them dramatic enough for film.

Not much is actually known about William Wallace, but I still don’t feel that a fictionalized English occupation was needed to fuel his hatred of Longshanks. Wouldn’t anyone be angry about a takeover by someone who was essentially an invited guest? If that’s not enough reason for a Scot to opine for his “Freeeeeeedom!” then how about this: Historians speculate that Wallace was possibly a mercenary soldier during Edward I wars against the Welsh. Maybe create some scenes where he witnesses English soldiers mistreating Welsh civilians (definitely not a far fetched idea) and have him vow to never let the same happen in Scotland. Point is, there’s enough fodder in the actual history of the time period to craft a compelling narrative.

That said, the romance subplots in Braveheart are a good addition, so I’m OK with the inclusion of Isabella of France in the story. She was definitely not there in real life (she was only three years old at the time of these events), but the fictional romance between Isabella and Wallace dovetails nicely with the murder of his wife. Gibson, despite how I feel about him personally, is a talented enough actor to be convincing inspiring an army for battle or looking deep into a lover’s eyes. Plus, you get a real “haha, screw you!” moment at the end between Longshanks and Isabella that is so satisfying I wish it were true.

Despite being a work of almost complete fiction, Braveheart did inspire my family to explore our Scottish roots, and created a tourist boom to the country after its release. I may not love this film, but it does stir a certain amount of pride in my ancestral nationality. Seeing men in (historical inaccurate) kilts reminds me that I still really want to visit Scotland and visit the castle my ancestors once owned. Ben and I are planning a trip to Europe in the near future, maybe we can add that to the itinerary.

Rating: C

*Another dick move by Edward Longshanks: his general treatment of England’s Jewish population. Wonder why Gibson didn’t make a movie about this…

Epic is how I’d best describe this film. Everything in it is done on a grand scale. Say what you will about Mel Gibson’s personal life, he makes some great films and has an amazing screen presence as the Scottish protagonist,William Wallace. There are some issues with this film, Gibson seems too old to be playing Wallace. He is at least 40 in this film and Wallace was at best, in his early 30s. It’s not Gibson’s fault though, apparently the studio would not agree to finance this film unless Gibson agreed to play the lead as well as direct. He was originally going to direct only, but was forced into a starring role. In saying that, he owns the screen. Gibson is intense and brutal when it is required, but can also be caring in the softer scenes he shares with his wife (Catherine McCormack) and the English Princess (Sophie Marceau). He captures the audience’s attention so much that I was almost willing to go into battle and fight for Scotland’s independence myself.

Another problem with this film is it’s inaccuracy. This is not a huge problem for me, I expect movies ‘based on a true story’ to take some liberties with its source material. I can see how it would bug some people though. It’s very hard to know exactly what was true though. The only people who were able to document this period at all were the English. And suffice to say, this film does not paint them as the nicest of races. So when all of their historians claim it is inaccurate, I tend to think it is not as bad as they’re claiming because they’re trying to save face for their country. England, particularly the royal family, come across as sadistic bastards in this film. I’d want to find ways to say it wasn’t true too. That being said, this film has obviously taken several liberties with its plot, but they never take away from this enthralling story about Scottish independence and the tyranny of their English overlords.

Gibson plays William Wallace, a Scottish patriot whose father is killed by English soldiers when he was very young, he is taken away from Scotland to live with his uncle (Brian Cox). When he returns, a revolution is brewing. Wallace does his best to stay out of trouble, but when the English kill his wife he is forced into a war he wants no part of. He leads his rag tag group of Scottish farmers against the much stronger English army. Wallace inspires his country to revolt against the English, eventually leading to their independence.

The most spectacular part of this film are the battle scenes. Gibson has set them out so well. The scenes are brutal and make it really easy to picture exactly how they’d have been in the Middle Ages. I really liked when the two sides charge each other, the first shot of them reaching one another is brutal. It’s unlike any battle scenes I’ve seen before. No film has been able to capture this time period better than Braveheart. It is a deserved Best Picture Oscar winner. The only travesty is that Gibson didn’t win for acting. He wasn’t even nominated, and he at least deserved that. This is the best role of his career.

Rating: A

5 thoughts on “Braveheart (1995)

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