Braveheart, Mel Gibson's epic film about William Wallace, was released in the UK 28 years ago, in September 1995. It went on to become a box-office hit, had a lasting impact on Scottish tourism, and won five Oscars - including those for Best Picture, Best Director, and cinematography.

Despite its well-known historical inaccuracies, the film is said to have helped stir an interest in Wallace and in Scottish history and identity.

Here we look back to the night when the Braveheart phenomenon began - the European premiere of the film at the MacRobert Arts Centre at Stirling University.

The Herald: Angus Macfadyen and Catherine Zeta Jones attend the premiere of Braveheart in Stirling Angus Macfadyen and Catherine Zeta Jones attend the premiere of Braveheart in Stirling (Image: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)It was truly the night the stars came out in Stirling.

Patsy Kensit was there. Jackie Stewart and Ally McCoist were there. Catherine Zeta Jones was in attendance, as did Muriel Gray, Carol Smillie, Rachael Stirling and Diana Rigg. Prominent Scottish politicians, too – George Robertson, the shadow Scottish Secretary, and SNP leader Alex Salmond, the latter sheltering from the rain beneath a huge black-and-yellow SNP umbrella.

The Scottish Secretary of State, Michael Forsyth, in full Highland dress, was booed by the thousand-strong crowd outside the venue. ''I think,'' he said later, ''the welcome was in good humour”.

Other celebrities who made it to the MacRobert Arts Centre that night – Sunday, September 3, 1995 – included John Leslie, John Gordon Sinclair, Blythe Duff, Kenny Logan and Kirsty Young, and, to loud cheers, Gavin Hastings.

Testament to power of Braveheart

But there was no doubting who were the stars of the show. For this was the European premiere of the Mel Gibson epic, Braveheart. And the cast – especially Gibson, who directed, co-produced and starred in the retelling of the story of William Wallace – received huge applause.

Clad, like Forsyth, in Highland dress, Gibson was taken aback by the sheer warmth of the welcome from the crowd. Many of them had stood for hours in the driving rain in the hope of catching a glimpse of him.

The Glasgow Herald reported: “He favoured the Buchanan tartan and went for the top of the range outfit which came complete with over-the-shoulder plaid.

The Herald: Patsy Kensit was one of the many celebrities who attended the Stirling premierePatsy Kensit was one of the many celebrities who attended the Stirling premiere (Image: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

“As the crowd screamed he was asked what if felt like to be Scotland's hero. 'Great', he said. 'For a day'. And the kilt? It was 'comfortable’.”

From the movie's cast there were Ian Bannen (billed as ‘the leper’ in the film’s end credits), Tommy Flanagan (Morrison), James Cosmo (Campbell), Angus Macfadyen (Robert the Bruce) and Catherine McCormack (Murron).

The Herald: James Cosmo in BraveheartJames Cosmo in Braveheart (Image: PR)

The most eloquent remark about the night came from James Cosmo. “This is the best and most important film Scotland has ever made, both politically and emotionally”, he said. “I took great pride just driving down to Stirling today and seeing the Wallace Monument looming over the town”.

The impending launch of the film had excited considerable interest in Scotland.

“It features some of the most lavish medieval battle scenes ever shot and opens throughout Britain on September 8”, the Glasgow Herald reported on August 1. “It opened in the United States 10 weeks ago [the premiere had been staged in LA in May], has taken an exceptional £40m to date, and also got excellent reviews.

“Whether Scotland's critics agree is another matter and Wallace could get hung, drawn, and quartered all over again.

Word of the week: braveheart

“Although some of the film was made in Scotland, the big battle scenes were shot in Ireland, the film company having been attracted by the better terms offered to film makers by the Irish Government as well as by the availability of greater numbers of extras.

“Written by Randall Wallace, Braveheart takes a typically Hollywood view of Scottish history, which is to say it plays fast and loose, but as a piece of epic cinema it is in the front rank”.

Collared before the Stirling premiere by a journalist from GMTV, Gibson was asked what he thought about the character of Wallace.

Braveheart: fantasy epic that perturbed the constitutionally disturbed

"Quite a lot, actually", he responded. "I mean, I dwelt on it for quite a long time. What I thought of it is probably evident on celluloid. He seemed to be selfless, a very intelligent man, capable of spiritual endurance and all sorts of things but at the same time he could be a savage".

Gibson said he hadn’t made the film for purposes of a Scottish independence campaign, or to be used “as some kind of tool for political gain or loss”. Asked for his views on the SNP using him on a leaflet, he responded that they hadn’t asked for permission first.

The Herald: Sir Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen at the premiere of the Mel Gibson film, BraveheartSir Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen at the premiere of the Mel Gibson film, Braveheart (Image: Newsquest)

“Are you bothered about it one way or another?” a journalist wanted to know. “A little bit, because that’s not really the purpose of what we’re here for”.

Gibson told the local newspaper, the Stirling Observer: "It was vital as far as I was concerned that the film be premiered in Stirling. I had always planned that, as it is central to Wallace's success. I was flabbergasted. I really did not expect such a welcome. I was knocked over by it. Something like that is a great reward. That's why we work and make films. I loved filming in Scotland and I hope to be back. There are very few places better to work and we had a wonderful experience here".

The Herald: We mustn't forget the Clan Wallace, Mel Gibson said as he accepted the Oscar award for best directorWe mustn't forget the Clan Wallace, Mel Gibson said as he accepted the Oscar award for best director (Image: Newsquest)Some 750 people attended the premiere at the MacRobert, but halfway through the film the projection equipment broke down and left the screen blank for 10 minutes. As the embarrassed audience sat in silence, Gibson broke the ice by shouting out: ''Does anyone know any good jokes?''

After the screening, guests made their way to Stirling Castle for a spectacular party in the Great Hall. En route they passed the floodlit Stirling Bridge where Wallace fought one of his bravest battles. In the distance the Wallace Monument had been especially lit in honour of both the hero and the occasion.

The Stirling Observer reported: "Medieval market stalls were set up outdoors, entertainers donned period costume, a replica of the Wallace Sword was on show and there were Highland dancers, pipers and a ceilidh band - with Mel taking to the floor for a Strip the Willow.

The Herald: Kirsty Young and Kenny Logan at the premiereKirsty Young and Kenny Logan at the premiere (Image: Lewis Segal)

"At the castle he delighted guests by mingling - and raised a cheer when he planted a kiss on the cheek of Stirling Provost Pat Greenhill after she presented him with a Wallace Sword letter opener".

In June the following year, a man who had attended the Castle function was fined £200 at Stirling Sheriff Court for having thrown a glass at a fellow partygoer when he was taunted over his English accent.

The Herald: Mel Gibson as William Wallace in BraveheartMel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart (Image: PR)

Braveheart and Rob Roy (which starred Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt and Tim Roth), were two of the biggest Scottish-set movies of the period. Common to both was the Dundee-born actor Brian Cox.

In his autobiography, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, Cox says that Gibson had been asked to play Rob Roy but had declined in order to direct Braveheart.

Cox got the role of 'Uncle Argyle' in Gibson’s film, but Michael Caton-Jones, who was directing Rob Roy, objected, saying he didn’t want Cox to appear in two Scottish films.

The Herald: Prime Minister John Major, Ian Lang (left) and Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth (right), on the campaign trail in Gretna Green in 1997Prime Minister John Major, Ian Lang (left) and Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth (right), on the campaign trail in Gretna Green in 1997 (Image: Chris Bacon/PA)

Cox replied: “Michael, there is 300 years between these two events. One is set in 1300 and the other one is set towards the end of the 1700s”. Caton-Jones, he says, told him: “I don’t want you to be in them both”.

Why I love Braveheart - film may be flawed but it made Scots care about their history

“Well, in that case you’ll have to give me more money”, Cox said. “You have to pay me for not being in Braveheart”. The director “hummed and hawed” but then Cox suggested that he could look entirely different for Braveheart by playing Argyle with an eye-patch. Gibson gave the idea his enthusiastic support.

The Herald: Mel Gibson (right) Brian Cox in BraveheartMel Gibson (right) Brian Cox in Braveheart (Image: Richard Blanshard/Getty Images)

Cox goes on to describe how both films were filmed at almost exactly the same time in the same place. “No word of a lie, both productions were in the same hotel, which meant that I finished filming Braveheart on the Saturday and started Rob Roy the following Monday. I didn’t even move rooms”.

In 2021, Tom Buncle, who was chief executive of the Scottish Tourist Board at the time of the film's release, told a BBC Scotland programme, Greetings From Scotland: “I would say honestly, I think Braveheart did more for Scottish tourism than the Scottish Tourist Board could have done in 20 years.

How Mel’s ‘Braveheart effect’ gave huge boost to tourism

“There were issues about historical accuracy but it was a huge worldwide flag for Scotland saying ‘look at us’ and ‘this is a great place to come to’.

“We jumped on that bandwagon – we handed out postcards with imagery of Scotland to cinema queues while they were waiting to go and see Braveheart.

“The thing that struck me more than anything was just the awareness. You could go overseas and the minute you said you were from Scotland, people would cry ‘freedom’ or ‘Braveheart’.”