That there has always been a huge gap between what happened in history and what appears on screen in film and television is hardly a revelation; when Braveheart came out in 1995, with Scots wearing kilts and painting themselves blue, history buffs turned equally blue in fits of apoplexy. Television series like Reign had so little to do with history other than characters having names, it’s bewildering why they ever bothered. From the first nearly ten-minute long single-cut scene in Netflix’s Outlaw King, it’s quickly established that the production team definitely did their homework and delivered a fast-paced and enjoyable cliff notes mashup following the rise of Robert the Bruce from a beaten rebel to King of Scots.
It’s not a perfect translation of the history to the screen, let’s get that out of the way right out. The various actor’s accents can at best be only charitably described as uneven. Star Trek’s Chris Pine isn’t the first actor who comes to mind when one thinks of casting for an early 14th century war epic. However, accent aside, he does a solid turn as the would-be King (and light-years more suited to the role than Mel Gibson’s William Wallace). The film opens with the capitulation of the Scottish nobles to King Edward (for those less historically inclined, think after the last battle in Braveheart but before Wallace has been captured). It’s a lush and lived-in scene, going from Robert and others swearing fealty to the English King to a muddy fortification, back to the pavilion and out the other side to a massive trebuchet firing on Sterling Castle.
With only a few hours of time, there’s a great deal of time compression going on. From their returning to their castles to the trials which cause the Scots to abandon their vows and take up the sword once again against Edward the film doesn’t really give much sense of time – feeling like perhaps 2 or 3 years go by. In reality between the beginning and the end of the film just over ten years had passed.
But with the shorthand there’s still a lot to be gleaned out of the story. It would have been nice to be a limited series format rather than a film, but if two hours is what we get, then this is about as well as we can hope to get out of this kind of film. Compared to either Elizabeth movie, The Lion in Winter, and any flavor of the Joan of Arc story, this one stands at least alongside the best of them if not better for its sticking within reason to the historical narrative. Is it a great film, not in the strict sense as it’s more of a really good war and action drama than something iconic like the original Lion in Winter.
The film doesn’t shrink back from the graphic violence of the time, so be aware that it does include an on-screen hanging and disemboweling.
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Outlaw King hit Netflix on Friday November 9th, and is available for streaming now.
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