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Braveheart (Movie 1995): Worst Best Picture Winner

4 minutes read

Mel Gibson in Braveheart
Braveheart with Mel Gibson.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise


In the late 13th century, the twenty-something Scottish knight William Wallace (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. Braveheart, leads a group of Scottish rebels against the occupying English forces. Wallace’s goal is to attain freedom for his fellow Scots, while also avenging the deaths of his father, brother, and wife.

In-between battles and prior to his brutal demise at the hands of the English, Wallace has an affair with the French princess, Isabella (Sophie Marceau), wife of the effete Prince of Wales (Peter Hanly) and daughter-in-law of England’s King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan).

The Pros:

  • Production values that an estimated $50-70+ million could buy in the mid-1990s.
  • It ends.

The Cons:

  • After watching Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, I thought no other Best Picture Oscar winner could possibly be more mind-numbingly bad. I was wrong.
  • Randall Wallace’s conventional screenplay meanders aimlessly, with little thought to character development, psychological insights, or anything that would humanize the cardboard characters (dark villains, shining heroes) shown on screen.
  • Wallace and Gibson opted not to pay too much attention to historical details that got in the way. Regarding Wallace’s affair with Isabella, Alex von Tunzelmann wrote in The Guardian: “So irresistible are the Scotsman’s hairy charms that she allows him to impregnate her. This scene is set in 1304 or 5, when the real Isabella would have been nine years old. Accuracy on that point might have been a bit tasteless, but accuracy on the point that she was still living in France and didn’t marry the Prince of Wales until three years after Wallace’s death would have been fine.”
  • As a director, Mel Gibson displays a misguided passion for graphic violence. Instead of vilifying war, Gibson not only makes it tedious, but also presents the gore, maimed bodies, and spurting blood in fetishistic fashion.
  • Not helping matters is that Gibson is badly miscast as the Scottish warrior: his accent is poor, his love scenes are unconvincing, and his Jesus-like martyrdom is appallingly self-glorifying.
  • The way Wallace and Gibson depict the Prince of Wales/Edward II – played by Peter Hanly (right) as a pathetic, hissy-fit-prone swisher – says more about them than about the future English monarch.
  • Braveheart seems to go on forever.

The Irony:

  • At the end of Braveheart, Mel Gibson/William Wallace’s voice is heard from the Great Beyond intoning: “In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland – starving and outnumbered – charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.” In truth, Scottish independence came about fourteen years after the Robert Bruce-led battle, following the signing of a treaty with England in 1328. History, of course, didn’t end there. Scotland and England were de facto reunited in the early 17th century, and Scotland became officially part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Despite continuous pro-independence rumblings, to this day Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.
  • Much of Mel Gibson’s paean to Scottish nationalism was filmed in Ireland because of tax concessions granted by the Irish government.
  • According to various reports, William Wallace was never known as “Braveheart.” That nickname was created for Gibson’s film.

In Sum:

  • Braveheart is only for aficionados of gory battle sequences, as Mel Gibson’s mythologized historical epic has precious little else to offer.

Note: This is a revised version of a review and commentary that was initially posted in November 2009.

Among the sources used for this post were Alex von Tunzelmann’s “Braveheart: dancing peasants, gleaming teeth and a cameo from Fabio” in The Guardian; the website Wallace: Man and Myth; Damien Bona’s Inside Oscar 2; and Sharon L. Krossa‘s “Braveheart Errors: An Illustration of Scale.”

And here’s another great quote from von Tunzelmann’s The Guardian piece:

“After his lady love is murdered by the English, Wallace pretends to surrender. At the last minute, he whips out a concealed nunchaku. Wait, what? Glossing over its implication that medieval Scotland imported arms from China, Wallace’s rebellion gathers pace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which the film has inexplicably set in a field. Rather than, you know, on a bridge. For pity’s sake. The clue’s in the name.”

BRAVEHEART (1995). Director: Mel Gibson. Cast: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfadyen, James Robinson, Brendan Gleeson, Peter Hanly, Ian Bannen, James Cosmo, Catherine McCormack, David O’Hara, Brian Cox. Screenplay: Randall Wallace.

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Jason -

This is quite a poor review, honestly. You completely ignore the fantastic score, beautiful sets, great costumes and design and the sense of humor of the movie. Even with all of your criticisms, you ignore that.

This movie was always sold as fiction and not the actual history of Scotland. Reality is far more boring than fiction.

Lorra -

I loved it, so what? It’s a MOVIE, not a historical document. Get over yourselves!

Ryan -

sadly a typical “critic review”. Find everything you can to dig into without seeing at a story for others to enjoy. There are very few movies of the historical nature that stick to the facts. The truth is it is a good, albeit not the great movie many believe it to be. OK, you didn’t like it, but if this was even close to a real review you would have commented on the decent acting by some of the other cast. The occasional comedic aspects, the off-handed dialogues that pushed the story and displayed some fine acting and what a movie can be without the flash.

Nathan Donarum -

I liked parts of it when I ignored the glaring historical inaccuracies. But I was never one of those people like 99% of the male student population who thought it was the greatest movie ever made. Not even close. And more and more I’ve been reevaluating my opinion of the movie, especially in light of seeing more of 1995’s superior films like Sense and Sensibility.

Andre -


Nathan Donarum -

I think you thoroughly convinced me that anything I might have found enjoyable about the movie previously was just plain wrong.

And I’m glad you’re on the same page with me about Gladiator being awful. I tend to group both Gladiator and Braveheart into the same category when I think of Best Picture winners. Refreshing to see someone who agrees with me on this.

Andre -

Hah. But did you actually enjoy it when you watched it?
A number of people really liked this film…

Dolly -

Interesting, I`ll quote it on my site later.


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