Robert The Bruce (15, 124 mins)

Director: Richard Gray

Stars: Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan

Three stars

While it may be a stretch to call this belated continuation of the events of Braveheart a sequel to Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner – in the modern movie parlance it’s probably more of a spin-off – there’s certainly enough thematic connective tissue to attract an audience warmed by its message.

It’s a long-held passion project for star and co-writer Angus Macfadyen, who returns with a charismatic performance as the titular king without a kingdom, a man who was principled but conflicted in Braveheart, and now doubting his credentials to rule. Set in the early years of the 14th century, Sir William Wallace is dead, and a Scotland in chaos seems more willing to side with England than pursue further the fight for independence.

Bruce is also ready to throw in the towel, and a reward for his capture from forces loyal to his rival Comyn (Jared Harris) leads to a plodding hunt and hide section where the king takes up with a rural family for the winter while his enemies close in. Don’t be fooled that this is an action film though, and despite a few competent swordfights it’s necessarily more modest than Braveheart, and far less romanticised.

Though there are some nice visual callbacks to the 1995 hit, filming was done mostly in the US in order to provide the bold snowy landscapes, and the vistas are handsome if not always convincing – truth be told, it often looks more like a high-country western than a Highland romp.

But look past the limitations and it’s a film about perseverance and belief in a cause and pursuing that to the end, of fighting for something. It certainly chimes with the current mood in this divided country of ours, yet does so in a way that is so contained and ponderous as to be in danger of dampening any enthusiasm it may be trying to rouse.

Once it dawns that it isn’t going to blossom into a more expansive tale, you can enjoy its portrait of Scotland in microcosm, of what families sacrificed for freedom. This is where Robert The Bruce earns its stripes, and it’s a theme hammered home in nearly every scene of a film that is worthy in intent if not always execution.

Paul Greenwood