William Wallace, a commoner, unites the 13th Century Scots in their battle to overthrow English rule.
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The second foray in the directors chair for Mel Gibson. After ‘The Man Without A Face’ (1993) is a larger more epic production, that has audiences split down the middle as to those who love it, and those who hate.
The haters’ mainly stating that it’s historically inaccurate. A fact that Mel actually seems to poke fun at in the film, with a delicious line where he appears in front of a retreating Scottish army, and rouses them to a fight by first declaring he is William Wallace. Only to be met with scorn from the men in the line. “William Wallace is seven feet tall!” shouts one man. To which our blue face-painted (one of those inaccuracies that the haters talk about. This sort of war-paint was never used by the real William) William replies “Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds. And if he were here, he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.” Probably something the real William never said either, but it’s really not the point. So what if Mel used artistic licence to change a few facts. What he’s created here is a storming piece of cinema rich in emotion and scale.
Let me state for the record that I personally love this film. to hell with the historical inaccuracies, you want the truth, go get a book. The strength of this film is the passion, the story of a man that was pushed beyond means, when the English garrison that occupies his homeland murder his wife. An act that quite rightfully enrages him and prompts the common Scottish men to take up arms and go to war. While the lords of the lands squabble over the petty scraps of titles the mean old bastard King Edward (the 1st) Longshanks. (The utterly brilliant Patrick McGoohan) Gives them.
“Now, let this scrapper come to me.” Says the magistrate after slitting the throat of Wallace’s wife. Which Wallace does, and boy does he do this with violence. Possibly the only critic I can have with Mel Gibson’s film is the gratuitous use of violence. But then this was the 13th century we were talking about here. A time when medieval weapons were designed with such vindictive sadism, as to cause the most amount of pain as is generally possible. And Gibson’s camerawork relishes in the brutality, limbs are hacked off, maces strike faces. And one brutal scene sees Wallace take revenge on a Scottish noble that betrayed him, by riding into said nobles bedchamber unleashing a mean looking ball & chain type weapon and striking him down in the bed he lay in. All of which is done in gleeful slow mo’. From the way the chain drops from Wallace’s hand to the rage upon his face. All is captured in precise detail… Yet to me, this just helps to bring the movies message to life, the common men standing up to tyrannical threat with bravery, muscle and courage in his heart.
And with such a large cast, you just can’t fault the performances. Everyone in it pulls weight. From the malicious king, to the wimpy prince to the gorgeous princess (a wonderful Sophie Marceau) to a central trio around Mel Gibson’s powerful portrayal of Wallace himself. The characters of Stephen, Hamish and Hamish’s father are well drawn out. Stephen the Irish fighter (David O'Hara) in particular stealing every scene that he’s in, and providing some well needed comic relief among the bloodshed.
Basically the film is hard to demerit. Which isn’t bad considering that back in 1995 when the movie was released I had no real interest in seeing it. I remember viewing the trailers for it on the big screen when I was able to go to the cinema every week (Trust me, when you have kids, your movie going chances will soon dry up. So make the most of it.) and it just didn’t appeal. When I did finally watch it on VHS though, it blew me away. I was captivated by it and wished that I did see it on the big screen. The times, they may have changed. But the message remains the same, all the people want is freedom. We have it a little better now of course, At least the PM doesn’t insist that those with titles are allowed to take our women into their beds on the first night of marriage. Yet there are still liberties being taken by the rich that a good revolution would do to straighten out. (Let’s not get into politics. But the greed of the bankers that drove us into recession, and then the bear faced cheek of them to still demand and get large bonuses. Is so morally out of order, that I’d gladly take a Braveheart style mace to the back of their heads.)
As for the film… A perfect 10. And the well deserved winner of the Oscar for best picture that it received. 10/10