I CAN’T remember the location of the cinema but I distinctly remember the audience reaction. In the awed darkness of the auditorium, several hundred filmgoers, having just watched the final scene in Braveheart, erupted in spontaneous applause. Some even stood up to cheer. I had never seen that sort of emotional reaction to a film before. In the later words of Neal Ascherson, “Nobody was prepared for the impact of Braveheart in 1995, a wildly crude Hollywood distortion of the Wallace story which knocked Scotland over”.

Yes, Braveheart is entertaining hokum; yes, it takes all sorts of regrettable liberties with the historical record (Mel Gibson says in his DVD audio commentary that it was “cinematic whimsy” to have Wallace meet the French princess; referencing another controversial moment, he acknowledges, “we adhered to history where we could but we hyped it up when the legend let us”). And yes, those are Irish uilleann pipes soundtracking a Scottish memorial service, Gibson having decided that traditional Scottish bagpipes sounded like a scalded cat.

For all its numerous faults – and some of the whimsy in the first act does now seem particularly arch – I don’t think the film has lost much of the power that caught my imagination 25 years ago.

Gibson is eminently watchable as the man propelled by the murder of his wife into an all-or-nothing proponent of independence. The unreliability of the Scottish nobles is conveyed vividly. And the battle-scenes, which of course pre-dated those in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan by a few years, are grimly spectacular. As the brilliant film critic, Anthony Lane, wrote: “The battle-scenes are easily the best reason to see this film”. He added: “The sound of flesh under siege has been cranked up to abattoir levels. I would pay a lot of money to see this film with a vegetarian”.

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It was interesting to watch how, at key moments during Braveheart, Gibson and his Oscar-winning director of photography, John Toll, would experiment with different film speeds to slow the action down and build up the tension. I’ve been a fan of Gibson’s work as a director ever since.

Braveheart also helped fuel an interest in Scottish history, both in Scotland and further afield, especially America. I’m sure I wasn’t the only adult who, as that cinema auditorium emptied, wished that our own history had been a bigger part of the curriculum during our long-ago school days.

The historian Fiona Watson has written that Braveheart and the other ‘historical’ film of the 1990s, Rob Roy, had made fashionable a thirst for information about Scottish history. Braveheart, she added, “did make Scotland cool, and finally brought home to the watching world that the nation has a proud history of its own”.

Author Lin Anderson, in Braveheart: From Hollywood to Holyrood, suggests that the film “has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people of all nationalities in a unique and powerful way” despite numerous disparaging, dissenting reviews by journalists and academics. From this point of view, then, the film has been a notable success.