Robert The Bruce (2019). Directed by Richard Gray. Starring Angus MacFadyen, Anna Hutchison and Zach McGowan.
Unfairly critically maligned and rather lazily dubbed as a “sequel” to Braveheart, due to Angus MacFadyen’s presence in the title role, Richard Gray’s film has a much smaller purse than Mel’s big-budget, battle-fuelled, rabble rouser and is consequently a less thrilling cinematic experience.
However, it arguably has more complex and interesting things to say about the nature of sacrifice and the psychological toll that a quest for freedom of any kind can take – both personally and collectively.
MacFadyen and Eric Belgau’s quietly engaging screenplay focuses on perhaps the most emotionally draining episode of the Bruce’s crusade to finish the work that William Wallace began – taking a healthy dose of inspiration from Walter Scott’s invention of the indefatigable spider spinning its web.
Despairing, defeated, badly wounded and on the verge of giving up entirely the Bruce finds himself taken in by Anna Hutchison’s isolated crofter Morag and cared for through a bleak winter as his enemies hunt him for financial reward.
Morag is really the main character of the piece, not the Bruce. Through his interaction with her family and his understanding of the losses which his people have suffered in his cause and the strength of their belief in him, his courage and spirit are renewed. Grand ideals can only be made real by the sacrifice of those who truly believe in the righteousness of their cause. Leaders must face this head on and not set themselves apart from or above the ordinary masses is the film’s rallying cry.
There are moments where the script is a little too on the nose with its realisations. Bruce doesn’t need to rather bluntly tell the family that they have changed him – it is apparent in the performance – but for the most part the writing steers clear of this kind of unsubtlety.
The pacing may not be to everyone’s taste and many will decry the lack of action but MacFadyen’s world-weary, dog-tired King feels rooted in reality and Hutchison is absolutely superb as the confident yet troubled Morag – a true believer in the cause yet deeply anguished at the toll the conflict has taken and will take from her going forward.
Montana doubles (not always convincingly) for a Scotland tightly gripped by the fury of ageless winter although this is augmented by a series of sequences filmed in Scotland itself – Eilean Donan Castle, Skye and Glencoe all feature briefly. This stitching is rather obvious yet with sympathy towards the budgetary constraints it is one which can be set aside due to the intelligence which the script has throughout and the emotive power inherent in its ending.
An ending which lays bare the true nature of the sacrifice required in order to create change and a better world. An ending which reinforces the bonds of humanity, the way we form and tell stories and the close connection we feel between ourselves and the land we are a part of. An ending which begs us not to forget the human cost behind the poetic story of our nation.