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Robert the Bruce
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Richard Gray
scr Eric Belgau, Angus Macfadyen
prd Richard Gray, Anna Hutchison, Angus Macfadyen, Kim Barnard, Andrew Curry
with Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Brandon Lessard, Gabriel Bateman, Talitha Bateman, Diarmaid Murtagh, Jared Harris, Emma Kenney, Kevin McNally, Patrick Fugit, Daniel Portman, Melora Walters
release UK 28.Jun.19
After spending more than a decade working to get this film made, Angus Macfadyen reprises his Braveheart role nearly 25 years later. Mainly shot in North America, the film has an awkward structure that blurs the narrative, as director Richard Gray struggles to make sense of the choppy, overcrowded scenes. But it coalesces into an unusually thoughtful exploration of power, war and the desire for independence.
In 1306 Scotland, civil war is brewing between the clan chiefs. Wanting Scottish independence, the rightful King Robert (Macfadyen) jostles for control with his long-time rival John Comyn (Harris), who is loyal to the English crown. Now an outlaw, the injured Robert stumbles onto the farm of the widow Morag (Hutchison) and her three children (Lessard and Gabriel and Talitha Bateman), who nurse him back to health. But soldiers loyal to England, including Morag's brother-in-law Brandubh (McGowan), are looking for him, and Robert's going to need an army to retake an independent Scotland.
The film opens with a flurry of on-screen text and Morag's voiceover narration to set the overcomplicated scene, even though she couldn't possibly know in such detail about the fateful and very recent encounter between Robert and Comyn. Keeping track of who's whom in the skirmishes that follow isn't easy, as a wide range of men are chasing Robert across the snowy mountains. Frankly, no one seems trustworthy, which is the point. And a few figures emerge as primary goodies and baddies along the way.
Macfadyen anchors a strong international cast, bringing a nicely introspective tone to the film as the reluctant leader contemplates his next move, always trying to do what's best for the people. Other characters kind of shuffle around in the background, even a major one like Hutchison's glamorous-but-gritty Morag, simply because they feel adjacent to the central plotline. So a lot of scenes are well-played but essentially irrelevant, included to add colourful details or to lighten the tone.
Viewers familiar with these events will enjoy the way they're recounted with reverence. Much of the film is a jaunty romp as Robert plays happy family with Morag and her intrepid brood of wannabe warriors. But of course, soldiers eventually turn up, and Robert delivers an earnest speech about freedom before launching into a final act filled with enjoyably scrappy battle action. Thankfully, the film avoids sensationalism to be a rousing account of a pivotal moment in Scotland's history.
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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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