Outstanding Film? Horrible History

By Garrett Box

Braveheart is often cited as one of the greatest action movies of all time, Braveheart poster a sweeping story of the great and mighty William Wallace, a hero who fought for all of Scotland in a magnificent landscape against the dreaded tyranny of England. Of course, how can one deny that this movie is what it definitely promises to be: an action filled adventure of rebellion against powerful forces with outstanding fight and battle scenes, and an incredible amount of historical drama? Yes. Was this a historical drama, chronicling the life of the great William Wallace of Scotland of legendary fame? Yes. Based on the stories passed down through generations that tell of Wallace’s courage and honor in battle, and of his noble sacrifice for all of Scotland?

Yes. For the viewer. Yet the movie leans rather a lot more towards historically based fiction. Quite a few historical errors prevent the movie from being a solid, historically fact based movie. While almost all of the characters did exist, the timelines and actions between the characters leave little room for accuracy. That does not mean that the movie is unenjoyable or completely false. The luscious Scottish landscapes, the turbulent battle scenes, and time honored medieval account of Wallace’s rebellion are all fact based, and create a spectacular sense of rebellion and freedom. Braveheart is a film that combines both action and drama in a fluid and entertaining way. As a result, the movie combines both action and history and creates the perfect popcorn movie. It is fun to watch, while still being accurate enough to learn something.

The movie, released in 1995 by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, employed an all-star cast of actors. Directed by Mel Gibson, who also played the lead character, the work is similar to many early Mel Gibson performances. Sophie Marceau as Isabella The movie also features Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, and Catherine McCormick in various roles as historical figures. In fact, a large variety of historical characters are woven into the plot, but these are not always in an accurate time frame. Nevertheless, the movie was heralded a cinematic masterpiece. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Make-up, Best Cinematography, and Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing, and by Hollywood standards, these were well-deserved.

The story covers a large period of time. Set within the thirteenth century in Scotland, the movie opens with King Edward I, 1272-1307 invading Scotland after the death of Alexander III of Scotland. Following the death of his young heiress, The Little Warrior Maid of Norway, there was no heir to the Scottish throne. Edward believed that ancient feudal law allowed him to take the sovereign power. He may have been wrong since Richard the Lionheart reputedly sold certain rights back to the King of Scotland in order to finance the Third Crusade. William & Murran A young William Wallace, who has traveled in Europe, returns to Scotland. Wallace falls in love, marries, and settles down. In the story, not necessarily history, Wallace’s wife was publicly executed for attempting to resist Edward’s new rule. Wallace and his clan retaliate by slaughtering the English garrison in the area. Then, joining up with a large force of Scottish clans to fight the invaders, Wallace proceeds to win a series of battles, including the Battle of Stirling, and the sack of the city of York. In response, King Edward sends his weak son, Prince Edward, accompanied by his wife, Isabella to stop Wallace. In the film’s plot, Isabella falls in love with Wallace, difficult since she would only have been about age nine.

In his efforts to recruit more Scots for his battle against the English, Robert the Bruce & William William Wallace attempts to win the support of a nobleman, Robert the Bruce, to aid in the struggle for independence. An exasperated Edward I, becomes increasingly determined to take the throne. Edward’s astute policies for Wales are ignored in the film. Wallace continues fighting in guerilla style warfare against the English army for seven years, primarily aided by Robert the Bruce. Intending to create a new Scottish army to fight against the English, Robert the Bruce attempts to set up a meeting of Scottish nobles to create such an army, but Wallace is ultimately betrayed at the meeting by Robert the Bruce’s father and brought to England to be tried for treason.

Wallace is put on trial and sentenced to be drawn and quartered in a chilling and brutal execution. It is a graphic execution. He is given the chance of a quick and merciful death if he will only accept the English rule. William Wallace, true to legend, then dies shouting, Freedom!” until the end. As a result, several years following Wallace’s death, Robert the Bruce, having taken up the cause, becomes King of Scotland and leads a Scottish army against the English at Bannockburn in one of the greatest battles in medieval history. The battle saved Scottish independence and proved the worst defeat of English arms in the medieval era.

Braveheart is unquestionably a good movie. Filled with action, drama, battle scenes, and all set against a tourist’s dream of Scotland; it tells an epic tale of redemption, revolution, betrayal and, rarely, actual history. As the movie is based more on the Scottish legend of William Wallace, while there is little clear history on William Wallace’s actual life, the movie improvised dismally. Battle scene with Scotsmen This does not stop Braveheart from being an overall entertaining tale. As critic Roger Ebert stated, “Once we understand that this is not a solemn historical reconstruction, we accept dialogue that might otherwise have an uncannily modern tone,” which is true for many Hollywood histories. The work also serves to appropriately handle large numbers of people and actors, something often mishandled within movies. Ebert stated that, “Gibson deploys what looks like thousands of men on horseback, as well as foot soldiers, archers, and dirty tricks specialists, and yet his battle sequences do not turn into confusing crowd scenes.” Braveheart becomes a film of “sly political treachery and extravagant, unrelenting battles” according to Caryn James. She maintains that regardless of the evident cinematic grandeur, “Braveheart is an outstanding movie, historical inaccuracies aside,” James declared. “Braveheart is a great, ambitious gamble that pays off.”

The difficulty in this movie lies with sourcing actual historical information. The historical figure of William Wallace is surrounded in mystery, living mostly as legend throughout Scotland. Most of Wallace’s story comes from old Scottish tales and ballads. Undoubtedly, the popular film influenced and inspired the historical interest of subsequent current researchers. Books that could add more accurate accounts of the life and times of WilliamWallace are now available to examine the historicity, James MacKay’s book, William Wallace: Brave Heart, is useful in that it reveals several key inaccuracies of the film, such as the fact that Irish soldiers did not switch sides to the Scottish in the battles, and that Isabella, the wife of Edward II, played a role in Wallace’s life. The Scottish did not wear kilts to battle as Gibson romanticized the battles. There was also, of course, no official uniform for the Scottish or English troops. Brendan Gleeson Instead, the soldiers cobbled together clothing for battles out of whatever was available. Inaccuracies sometimes are simply Hollywood drama, including the fact that the Battle of Stirling did not even include Stirling Bridge in the landscape. In addition, Wallace’s execution was also much more violent than was portrayed in the movie, and much more gruesome. Public executions in the Middle Ages were brutal. Even today, history limits fiction in film. Nevertheless, the characters of the movie are compelling. William Wallace is an interesting character, even lacking a serious historical basis for his film characterization. For history, Peter Armstrong and Angus McBride on the battles of Stirling Bridge and Fallkirk as well as Angus Konstram on Bannockburn are wonderful reading.

Being portrayed much like the man of legend, Patrick McGhoohan as Edward I William Wallace rose from the depths of poverty to being named a Guardian of Scotland, a national hero. He led his fellow Scotsmen against an invading force, and proved both a powerful fighter and genius tactician. Wallace is portrayed as honest, true, and willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to defend his land against the English invaders. On the opposite side of the character scale in the movie, the kings of England, Edward I and Edward II are also portrayed in an intriguing way. Shown as a cruel ruler, Edward I is also portrayed consistently as meticulous and demanding, always attempting to think three steps forward and, in Scotland at least, often failing. He is acted brilliantly by Patrick McGoohan, as a king with no sympathy for those he fights against, and somehow managing to portray the flames of the British Empire in embryo.

Even disregarding the historical inaccuracies, of which there were many, Braveheart is an entertaining, worthwhile historical film. William & Murran riding Even while there are a large number of discrepancies in historical accuracy, the story is still compelling. Moreover, there is still some historical relevance for the movie, as the stories and lives of characters such as Robert the Bruce and King Edward I are still, for the most part, correct. The battle weapons and fighting tactics are relatively accurate for military historians as well, and play a large part in the movie. There are many parts of the movie that do not add up, and there are some inaccuracies in battles, clothing, and characters. As a popcorn movie to watch when you are feeling particularly manly, this movie would serve well. As a history lesson, it would not.


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