movie film review | chris tookey


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  Braveheart  Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
8.75 /10
Mel Gibson , Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan
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Directed by: Mel Gibson
Written by: Randall Wallace

Released: 1995
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 177

William Wallace (Mel Gibson), a cheery, mild-mannered guy, is spurred to revenge against the English by the murder of his wife (Catherine McCormack).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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In reality, Wallace probably never had a wife: he became an outlaw because he killed an Englishman during an argument in Dundee. But never mind.

Mel Gibson's second film as director-star won five Oscars and was easily the best of 1995's Summer's action blockbusters. Handsomely photographed and edited with Oscar-worthy panache, Braveheart would be worth seeing for its battle sequences alone. Thrillingly shot, they show the full horror of war, but also the rush of adrenaline which accompanies it.

Braveheart is the victim of its own battle scenes, for they are so exciting that the quieter moments suffer by comparison. Still, Mel Gibson has a spirited stab at a 14th century Scots accent and makes a sympathetic transition from Mad Max The Road Warrior to Mad Mac the Woad Warrior. Even in a kilt and hair-extensions, he dominates with a fine display of old-fashioned star quality. His fans will particularly like the way his face-paint brings out the blue of his eyes.

One aspect of William Wallace that evidently interests screenwriter Randall Wallace (no relation) is that he seems to have had no motive of personal aggrandizement (though if that is so, why did Wallace agree to be knighted after the battle of Stirling?). It is the treachery of corrupt Scottish nobles that finally undoes him, and allows the tyrannical English King, Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), to execute him in the most barbaric way and display his head on London Bridge.

The biggest problem the film has is that after two hours we can see that William Wallace is doomed to fail. The only important question to detain us further is: will he crack under torture and renounce his ideals of freedom and Scottish independence? And since Wallace is being played by Mel Gibson, we know the answer will be no.

The third hour of the film is the weakest. It contains too many repetitive exchanges between Wallace's chief betrayer, Robert the Bruce (played rather colourlessly by Angus MacFadyen), and Bruce's leprous father (Ian Bannen), and it devotes too much time to Wallace's alleged affair with Isabella (Sophie Marceau), wife to the future Edward II. Minutes before Wallace's execution, she taunts the dying Edward I with the news that she is to bear Wallace's son - so Wallace's ultimate triumph will be to father the King of England's heirs.

Miss Marceau is beautiful and a fine actress, but her role looks like the Hollywood hokum it is. Wallace was executed on August 23rd 1305; Edward I died almost two years later, on July 7th 1307; and Isabella bore her first child - the future Edward III - on November 13th, 1312. Even if we assume that Isabella conceived by Wallace on the eve of his execution, this would make her pregnancy - at seven years, two and a half months - the longest in history.

The biggest, and most significant distortion, is that the English are portrayed - as in most recent Hollywood films - as unmitigated bad guys. Edward Longshanks, especially, is portrayed as a greedy tyrant - a cartoon caricature of the real Edward I, who could certainly be cruel (though would a 13th century King have lasted long if he wasn't?), but was also one of the founding fathers of Parliament and the rule of law.

For a three-hour epic, the message is disappointingly simple-minded. Despite the extreme care that has been lavished on making the battle scenes realstic, there is little attempt to make the politics of the period realistic. The issues are reduced to two slogans - Freedom good, Tyranny bad; and Scottish good, English bad.

The "feelgood" postscript to Braveheart suggests that Scotland under Robert Bruce - inspired by the glorious example of Wallace - won its freedom after Bannockburn in 1314. A more cynical postscript might be that it meant freedom for Scotland to suffer under Bruce's son David II, one of the worst rulers in the history of the British Isles, who ruined his country with his extravagance and futile raids into England, and sold out the independence of Scotland by offering the succession to Edward Longshanks's grandson.

Braveheart is, in fact, part of that limp-liberal tradition which assumes that Imperialism and Colonialism are invariably bad, while "freedom-fighters" are honourable, family-loving chaps with no personal axe to grind.I can't help remembering that among recent so-called "freedom-fighters" have been such charmers as Mao, Pol Pot and Gerry Adams, while among the most notorious imperialists of history have been Thucydides, Sir Francis Bacon and Disraeli. I know who I'd rather be ruled by.

But don't let such considerations dissuade you from seeing an exciting, handsome movie splendidly directed and acted by Gibson. However questionable historically, it has the old-fashioned virtues of getting you on the hero's side from the start, keeping you there, and showing why his reputation has passed into legend.

Oscars were won by John Toll's photography, the make-up and sound-effects editing. Nominations went to James Horner's score, Steven Rosenbklum's editing, Charles Knode's costume design and the sound.

"Wallace was a creature of opposites. The thing that impressed me the most about him was that apparently he did all he did with no desire for the kind of self-aggrandizement that accompanies a lot of people's motives. I firmly believe he did it all for his country. He wasn't trying to be the king or the big wheel. He just wanted to be free. That's on the good side. He was, however, a real bastard, particularly in battle. After defeating Cressingham at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, for example, he skinned him and turned his skin into a belt. That's a savage for you, right? But he wasn't afraid to wade in with his men, right on the front line. He cared about them, and they would follow him into hell because of that."

(Mel Gibson)

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