At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Scotland was occupied by England, more precisely by King Edward I (Stephen Dillane). Most of the nobles, some of whom have the primacy on the throne of the King of Scotland, together with other Scottish nobles have been fighting for years to liberate the Scottish lands, but they are not united in that intention. After a heavy defeat and terrible human losses, they must retreat again, make an apparent peace and obey King Edward, who continues to impose terrible monetary levies. The people are not reconciled with that, especially after the horrific public execution of the Scottish hero William Wallace, which also brings unrest to the circles of nobles, especially Robert Bruce (Chris Pine). He decides, with the help of the church, to be crowned King of Scotland and embark on a bloody, decisive campaign to return Scotland to the hands of the Scots.
It is impossible not to immediately connect the film with the very close, related and well-known Braveheart, where the emphasis is on William Wallace (Mel Gibson), who was actually the initiator of the Scottish rebellion against English tyranny and imposition. The main character of this film fought battles side by side with him, and what happened to Wallace was the trigger for this character’s decision to start a new, final war of liberation from English tyranny. So, the events in the film take place after the making of the film Braveheart, and Robert Bruce is, in a way, presented in that film in a diametrically different way, more as a villain, as a calculated politician who doesn’t care about the people.
This film corrects that and we get the image and opportunity of a true king, with all the virtues and flaws of an ordinary man, who is remembered in history as one of the kings who restored autonomy to Scotland. Of course, this film will certainly never reach Braveheart and achieve that, we can say, cult status, nor was it made as a historical megalomaniac spectacle, but the dose of groundedness, exaggeration and very concise image may be even more important to me, especially because I am a big fan of this history. This film wasn’t made for the big screen like Braveheart, this production with Netflix, in my opinion, didn’t minimize the film at all, moreover, it’s more accessible to an audience that certainly shouldn’t miss it.
On David Mackenzie, boss Perfect Sense (Starred Up) and I (Hell or High Water) have said everything you need to know on this site. In my review for Hell or High Water, I stated that Mackenzie is the most fond of crime dramas in which he excels, because he brings them to us in an unusual (more likable and intriguing) way than usual. Only, this time it is not a crime but a biographical (historical) drama, which he delivered to us in a very brave and quite bloody way. Impressive, effective, interesting enough, it holds attention to the end, and yet, true and with a minimum of adding fiction, which is inherent in such projects.
The film was mostly shot in Scotland (a few in England as well), and some scenes of endless green landscapes are breathtaking. The battle scenes are done great and very dirty and bloody, which may repel some viewers who will even draw a parallel with the above category, but I categorically disagree. We have embellishments on all sides, especially in shiny covers. This film deliberately avoided that and that’s why thumbs up, again a recommendation to watch this director as much as possible, because quality can never get boring, no matter how bloody or raw it may seem.
A screenplay in which there is no idleness, boring and strenuous quiet moments that otherwise adorn films like this, was written by Bathsheba Doran, a screenwriter who previously worked on the mega-successful Boardwalk Empire series. With David McKenzie, who was her right hand in writing, she made a very decent time-adapted screenplay, where we have a few effectively memorable sentences (Thinking about revenge? It tears on the soul, but it can also be a weapon) that will remain to live. I would only blame her for deliberately embellishing the main character in the situation with John Comin.
I can’t get enough of the actress Chris Pine, who has become more diverse and better over the years. His Robert Bruce is a brave, courageous, proud, self-conscious, great tactician, everything that should distinguish a great leader, in this case a king, who has been remembered in history. A big plus goes for the brilliantly removed Scottish accent, it always positively surprises me with the skills of an actor. I have to mention one trivia that raised dust around the film and in a way gave it a lot of marketing – it took off for the first time on the film, and when those scenes were done, it caused laughter among some workers on the set.