Bunk, but the battles are great

What with Michael Caton-Jones’ expansive Rob Roy knocking at the international box-office door and now Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Scotland seems to be having a pretty good year.

Never mind that Braveheart was made substantially in Ireland, where the tax breaks are better, and financed wholly by American dollars. Never mind either that Mel Gibson who directed and plays William Wallace, is Australian. Seldom has so much cinematic talent been locked up in the lochs.

The point is: what do the films say about Scotland? And the answer, with the homourable exception of Small Faces, is not a lot. If history is bunk, goodness knows how you can describe Braveheart. It can best be summed up as a star-driven epic that skirts around elements of the 14th century truth in favour of arrant romanticism but at least does its battle scenes exceedingly well and two things Hollywood proper would never think about.

The first is that it has an ending that can hardly be encompassed by the term “feelgood”, and the second is that it kills its star, and rather painfully too, by having him hung, drawn and quartered for a full 10 minutes.

Seriously, though, this is by no means a bad effort in the historical epic genre, since Gibson has made himself into a more than passable director and, for the battles of Stirling Bridge and Falkirk alone, deserves an Oscar of some sort.

Gibson is out to make a movie that will sell despite its almost three hours of length. And in this he has undoubtedly succeeded. He appears himself as a dishevelled and grimy if upstanding figure – quite different from the Rob Roy of Liam Neeson and at least one notch down in the social pecking order. But in his own terms, Gibson’s is a class act, roughing himself up for the part in a way Errol Flynn and the swashbucklers would never have countenanced.

Nor does his picture of 14th century Scotland stint on the clan savagery and medieval mess of the time. Everyone looks as if they’ve been out in the weather and without a bath except for the rain, and even the British soldiers look like put-upon infantry wondering where their next pay packet is coming from.

The smoothest performance of all, however, comes from Patrick McGoohan as Edward, a rasping tyrant in the Thatcher mould who recognises that to rule you need to put your rod of iron where it hurts most and forget about the niceties. This is not over-played but it is expressed with suitable quiet venom.

Braveheart is more dramatic than Rob Roy, if equipped with a simpler, less multi-layered screenplay (by Randall Wallace). It moves at a lick, is very well mounted and you could actually go to see it for those battle scenes alone.

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