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