- Robert the Bruce
- Directed by Richard Gray
- Written by Eric Belgau and Angus Macfadyen
- Starring Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison and Jared Harris
- Classification N/A; 124 minutes
The new historical drama Robert the Bruce arrives as a curious set of twin propositions. The first: Would you like an unofficial sequel to Braveheart that again stars Angus Macfadyen as the Scottish freedom fighter Robert the Bruce ... but is wholly absent of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace, not to mention everything else (scope, cast, gore, budget) that made Gibson’s 1995 Oscar winner so memorable? No, you say? All right. Well, how about this second offer: Would you like a different, thriftier, chaster version of David Mackenzie’s 2018 historical epic Outlaw King, which also focused on the post-Wallace legacy of Robert the Bruce, but had the good fortune to star charismatic leading man Chris Pine, featured a much-discussed glimpse of Pine’s penis and was financed by the deep pockets of Netflix? No to that one, too, huh?
Well, then I have nothing good to tell you and neither does Robert the Bruce director Richard Gray. It’s a shame because Gray must have felt extraordinarily, blindly passionate about Robert’s struggles in 14th century Scotland – so much so that he failed to realize that anyone even mildly interested in the historical figure would have already seen more skilled, and more generously financed, productions.
Or perhaps the blame for this misbegotten drama should be placed on the shoulders of Macfadyen. By starring, co-writing and producing a film that resurrects the meatiest role of his career – now a quarter-century in the rear view – the Glasgow actor has crafted a too-obvious vanity project. And a rather boring one at that.
Instead of chronicling and/or dissecting Robert’s decades-long journey to fight for what he believes in, and placing that in Scotland’s cultural and political context, Gray and Macfadyen spend most of their film plunking a sullen, near-silent Robert down on a farm with a beautiful widow (Anna Hutchison) and some cute kids, where he learns some valuable life lessons before going on his merry way to make history.
It is certainly a different approach than the ones Gibson or Mackenzie took with their films, so points for that. But different storytelling methods don’t automatically translate to good or even meagerly interesting ones. And for Gray to film the thing in Montana (!) with a host of poorly accented American actors (!!), and pretend that Macfadyen has barely aged a day since we last saw his Robert in Braveheart (!!!), quadruples down on the production’s misguided decision-making.
Unless you are a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, or perhaps part of the Macfadyen clan, you’re better off letting this particular version of history get lost in the sands of time.
Robert the Bruce is available digitally on demand starting April 24
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