Netflix and Chill: The Real Braveheart / A review of “Outlaw King”

by The Collected Mutineer

We all know the story of Braveheart. At least, we think we do. Thanks to the 1995 award-winning film from Mel Gibson, Americans (and doubtless others across the globe) believe that a man named William Wallace wore plaid, painted his face blue, and was the sole inspiration behind the Scottish fight for freedom. But the iconic Braveheart isn’t exactly an accurate portrayal of historical events, and Wallace never bore the heroic moniker we’ve all come to know him by. So who was the real Braveheart? We get a glimpse of him through the lens of one of Netflix’s latest releases, Outlaw King (2018).

Netflix

The film follows the story of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) in 14th century Scotland. Robert and his fellow lords have been fighting against their English neighbors—the English king, Edward I, had attempted to force Scotland under his rule in their moment of regnal weakness. The Scottish eventually relent and swear fealty to Edward in order to stop the constant killing. Robert swears to obey the English king, even though he himself has a claim to the Scottish crown. In reward for his new promise of loyalty, he is married off to the king’s goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh).

But peace doesn’t last long. When William Wallace is murdered by the English, Robert cannot stand by and watch. He is spurred to begin a second rebellion, and convinces his brothers and new wife to support him. The Church of Scotland is also willing to back him, on one condition—he must make a move on his claim and be crowned King of Scots.

Netflix

What follows is a somewhat-historically-accurate account of Robert’s attempts to win freedom for his people despite being a fugitive from the English forces. Though he is Scottish, he isn’t popular due to the murder of his political rival, another man who could also have claimed the throne as his birthright. Furthermore, many of the Scottish lords don’t want to make Edward angry, remembering the bloodshed that they had so recently managed to halt. Think Game of Thrones, but real. Things got bad in Europe when people started claiming crowns that may or may not have been theirs.

(Without spoiling the ending of the film, it’s safe to tell you what happened historically to Robert after his death in 1329. Robert asked his friend James to take his heart on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as he would not be able to make the journey himself while alive. James got involved in a battle on his way, and according to legend, carried the heart with him into the fray crying, “Lead on brave heart; I’ll follow thee.”)

Netflix

While the film’s characterization of Robert is probably kinder than reality (he was likely a cold and ruthless warlord, not necessarily the genteel soldier), Pine is still a joy to watch. He threw himself into the role, and delivers a performance that makes you root for the underdog. Maybe it’s all the fantasy shows I’ve been watching, like the previously mentioned Game of Thrones, but Pine’s Robert reminds me of Robb Stark (granted, a Robb Stark who doesn’t get murdered at a wedding). But their spirits are the same. The chances aren’t good, but there is a sliver of hope. Like the story of the spider who succeeded on its seventh attempt, Robert defied the odds and became a Scottish legend for all-time.

Watch Outlaw King if:

  • You are a fan of the British Isles and their history
  • You love Chris Pine
  • You need something to pass the time until GoT comes back

Outlaw King is available to stream now on Netflix.

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