In telling the story of Scottish king Robert the Bruce’s early years, Outlaw King draws a bigger focus on the battle at hand.
There’s no doubt that Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) led an interesting life but as a person, he’s such a complex character. He goes from noble to kind to outlaw in the span of just a few years. How many people can truly put such impressive feats on their resume?!? The Scotland of the 1300s isn’t the Scotland that we know today. While it occupies the same space of land, the crown had yet to merge with that of England. The two countries were at war with each other and there would never truly be peace until a few years prior to Robert the Bruce’s 1329 death.
With King Edward (Stephen Dillane) wanting stability, he arranges a marriage between Robert and the daughter of an ally, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh). The marriage happens two years before the film takes place but we go along with it anyway. The two of them get to know each other but King Edward continues to stand in their way. Taxes, force, and more pave the way for Scottish feelings turning against the English crown. Robert’s father, Bruce Senior (James Cosmo), passes away, Wallace is captured and killed, and finally Robert’s rival, John Comyn (Callan Mulvey), is killed. It took some time but following Comyn’s death, Robert would be named as King of Scotland. Much of his story is on Wikipedia or Ronald McNair Scott’s book so we are free to discuss other things about the film.
If you’re unfamiliar with Scottish history going into the film, there’s nothing to fear. A few screens of text catch viewers up with what happened prior to 1304. The film ends with an epilogue that lets us know the aftermath following the Battle of Loudon Hill in 1307. Using this guerilla-style battle as a stopping point is a wise decision because there’s so much material to tell the story. In some ways, this film can be seen as a sequel of sorts to Braveheart. I say that because of Robert having fought in William Wallace’s revolt against King Edward I of England. Other than that, the main reference to Wallace comes by way of a memorial with his arm located in Berwick.
Director David Mackenzie reunites with his Hell or High Water star to give us this never-before-told true story. That being said, the cut of the film that I watched is not the one that screened in Toronto. This is because they decided to cut out a good 20 minutes of Outlaw King. Whether it ultimately worked or not remains to be seen. I wasn’t too fond of this film, unfortunately. I love a good war film as much as the next person but something about this one just felt like it focused more on battles and less on who Robert was as a person.
Mackenzie and crew do a great job at recreating the time period. Hell, they manage to do so even after all the damage caused by Robert the Bruce! That’s quite a feat in its own right! Visually speaking, the Scottish scenery is beautiful. Director of photography Barry Ackroyd deserves a lot of credit for translating the scenery and such on camera. Speaking of Scotland, one can look at Outlaw King as being a prequel to the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots.
I just feel like we could have learned more about the Scottish king. This is a person whose lifetime could be the subject of several films. All one needs to do is look at the events that define his lifetime. Is focusing on 1304-1307 enough to offer a compelling portrait? This is the question that I keep going back to but for me, it falls short.
Outlaw King offers some fine battles but we don’t get into what truly drives Scottish king Robert the Bruce as a person.
DIRECTOR: David Mackenzie
SCREENWRITERS: Bash Doran, David Mackenzie and James MacInnes
CAST: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Stephen Dillane, Sam Spruell, Callan Mulvey, James Cosmo, Paul Blair, Chris Fulton, Steven Cree, Stephen McMillan, Lorne Macfadyen, Jack Greenlees, Josie O’Brien, Alastair Mackenzie, and Gilly Gilchrist.