A major new movie directed by acclaimed Scots director David Mackenzie takes a fresh look at the life of Robert the Bruce. JAMES MOTTRAM delivers his verdict following last night’s premiere of Outlaw King at the London Film Festival.

Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie returns with Outlaw King, the most ambitious and epic film of his career. 

Re-telling the story of Robert The Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who galvanised his countrymen to repel the English forces of Edward I, this is a suitably grim and grisly take on this most famous slice of medieval history. 

Blood, sweat, saliva and swathes of mud are the order of the day.
Receiving its British premiere at the London Film Festival last night before it debuts on Netflix on November 9, Mackenzie has trimmed 20 minutes from the cut that opened the Toronto International Film Festival last month, reportedly removing some minor characters and scenes from the first and third act to aid pacing. This two-hour cut now plays lean and mean.

READ MORE: Robert the Bruce epic to open prestigious Toronto International Film Festival

Mackenzie is clearly desperate to put Braveheart to the sword.
Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning look at William Wallace was notorious for its historical inaccuracies and Outlaw King does its best with the complexities of 14th Century history, as Edward I (Stephen Dillane) looks to muscle his way onto Scottish soil, forcing Robert (Chris Pine) and other nobleman to swear allegiance to his crown.

HeraldScotland:

Yet with the killing of Wallace still fresh – we see a ripped arm and a head strung up – Robert rebels, eventually to unite a splintered Scotland as king. 

Among his band of followers, a mad-eyed Aaron Taylor-Johnson as James Douglas – or the Black Douglas as he will become known – desperate to seek revenge on the English monarch who ripped lands away from his family.

While you won’t find scenes of Robert taking inspiration from a web-spinning spider (although there are subtle nods to the determined arachnid here and there), the film isn’t afraid of more tender moments.

Notably between Robert and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh (Lady Macbeth star Florence Pugh), who comes to appreciate her new husband’s sensitivities even on their wedding night.

READ MORE: How Spain marks the true story of Braveheart

Reuniting with Mackenzie, the American-born Pine seems just as comfortable here as he did in the director’s Texas bank robbery yarn Hell or High Water. 

He digs into Robert’s humanity as much as his testosterone; one suspects had this movie been around in the run-up to the vote for Scottish independence the outcome would have been markedly different.

On the English side, Billy Howle as Edward, Prince of Wales – the king’s son charged with tracking down Robert and his posse – does have a tendency to lurch into excess, with a performance almost as severe as his haircut. 

But perhaps it’s fitting for a king-in-waiting constantly derided by his father to reek of such desperation.

HeraldScotland:

Unafraid to show it like it almost certainly was, Mackenzie doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed; there is one particularly nasty scene where a significant character is hung, drawn and quartered. 

The battle scenes are also evocatively shot with the camera either in among the swinging broadswords or offering up elegant aerial shots of fiery arrows in flight, all crafted by veteran cinematographer Barry Ackroyd.

READ MORE: Outlaw King filming brings 'huge benefits' to our screen sector, says Fiona Hyslop

When it comes to the climactic scrap at Loudoun Hill, as the outnumbered Scottish troops turn on the English in a vicious fight to the death, Outlaw King doesn’t waste its opportunity.

This is big-scale filmmaking, beautifully rendered. It’s almost a pity that most will watch this movie on their televisions and iPads via their Netflix account. But what they will find is a rough-hewn adventure with dirt under its nails.

HeraldScotland:

Filming took place in Scotland