It was the first “Alien” movie that introduced what I like to think of as “grubby hi-tech.” Lived-in spaceship cockpits with computer consoles, dials, and buttons that have been manipulated by greasy, dirty, crew-member fingers for years.
It was 1989’s groundbreaking “Henry V,” directed by Kenneth Branagh, that introduced primordial, medieval mud battles—lots and lots of thundering horse hooves churning up muck, along with arrows, flaming and not, whistling overhead. And primal battle gore.
But it was really Monty Python in the late ’70s, with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and bits like “Jabberwocky,” that really, seriously conjured up the sheer, massive amounts of mud that humans had to deal with back in the day.
Without our conveniences, human existence is a mud existence. Without air conditioning, central heating, and bug spray, humans boiled in the summer, got eaten alive by bugs, and froze in the winter. And always there was mud.
With this perspective, it becomes easy to understand why spiritual paths, down through the ages, have maintained that earthly existence is for one reason only: It’s a last-chance saloon, bequeathed by compassionate gods to assist humans in our filthy, muddy existence—who would otherwise be slated for being written out of the Book of Life—to burn off their karma through suffering, and ascend again to heaven.
Not ‘Braveheart,’ But Not Not ‘Braveheart’
Sir Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), portrayed by Angus Macfadyen in “Braveheart” as a well-intended but weak prince, brow-beaten by his syphilitic, dying father, is here played by Chris Pine. So “Outlaw King” basically takes up the story where “Braveheart” left off.
In one year’s time, he transforms from nobleman to reluctant king (think Aragorn from “The Lord of the Rings”) to outlaw hero king, much like William Wallace himself in “Braveheart.” This is the story of the First War for Scottish Independence (1298–1306).
Robert the Bruce is forced to take up the sword to save his new wife (Florence Pugh), daughter, people, and Scotland from the dominance of English occupation. The English had horrible laws in place, such as “Prima Nocta,” where English noblemen were allowed to swoop unannounced into Scottish peasants’ weddings, scoop up brides-to-be, drag them to their castles, and attempt to rape and so breed the Scots out of Scotland. This, compliments of the hellacious King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and his petulant, merciless son, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).
William Wallace’s only appearance here is as one of his body parts, which had been scattered to the four corners of Scotland to quell any thoughts of uprising. The one actor from “Braveheart” in “Outlaw King” (playing Robert’s father) is James Cosmo, who played the father of the giant, blond-bearded Hamish in Mel Gibson’s film.
What It’s About
It’s about why the Scots would willingly die to be ruled by a king named Robert instead of one named Edward: namely, Scottish pride, but also to not be gutted by taxes, and, to paraphrase a line from “Trainspotting,” to not be colonized by English buggers (via “Prima Nocta,” among other means).
“Outlaw King” opens with Bruce and the alpha males of the other Scottish clans swearing allegiance to King Edward the Longshanks, after having been sacked by the English. And if you remember “Braveheart,” it was largely because the Scots couldn’t stop their own internecine squabbling.
However, when William Wallace is finally captured, and drawn and quartered, the Scots decide to reunite the clans and go on the warpath, once again, against the dreaded Longshanks.
Chris Pine as Robert is pretty good, does a decent Scottish accent, but lacks the live-wire charisma of a Mel Gibson to be convincing as a man powerful enough to lead men through starvation and miles of mud.
Florence Pugh’s Elizabeth might actually steal the entire movie. She carries a deep gravitas and charisma that eclipses Pine’s fairly effortlessly.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson shines as rebellious madman and comrade in arms James Douglas, later known in victory as “The Black Douglas.” It’s safe to say that he’s here as a tribute to the character of wild Irishman Stephen in “Braveheart.” Watch for the scene where the father whose daughter James is chasing, threatens him with eunuch-hood, and James gives the dad a big smackeroo kiss on the lips.
Stephen Dillane is excellent as Longshanks; the king’s sick and tired of having to quash all these endless Scottish rebellions, and also of his ineffectual son. However, he’s not in the same league as Patrick McGoohan’s diabolical “Braveheart” King Edward.
Said ineffectual son (Billy Howle) is a pitiable character, and yet Howle manages to do some impressive scene-stealing. Mel Gibson’s version of this historical character roiled in a cruel, laughing-stock homophobia; here he’s portrayed as manlier but also more viciously ruthless.
At slightly over two hours, the film goes by surprisingly quickly, and while the subject matter is Scottish overcast-sky gloomy, cold, beard-y, brutal, and bloody, the battle scenes might actually out-do “Braveheart” in terms of ferocity. They’re ever-so-slightly more raw and believable. Which is saying quite a bit. Primordial, medieval mud battles have actually evolved since Branagh put them on the cinematic map.
Ultimately, it’s a reminder of why we should thank our lucky stars daily for air conditioning, central heating, electric razors, volunteer military, Deet, and four-wheel-drive pickups with mudflaps.
However, as the gods apparently see it, the bitterest suffering is the most blessed, because it allows us to shed karma quicker and ultimately blow this taco stand of earthly existence for sweeter pastures. We no longer have these reminders of the true meaning of our muddy-earth incarnations; “Outlaw King” will strongly remind you.
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Blair
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Release Date: Netflix worldwide Nov. 9
Rated 3 stars out of 5