'Outlaw King' Review
Robert the Bruce takes on King Edward I of England in Netflix's 'Outlaw King,' an epic clearly made for the small screen.
Release Date: November 9, 2018
MPAA Rating: R
A true David v Goliath story of how the great 14th Century Scottish ‘Outlaw King’ Robert The Bruce used cunning and bravery to defeat and repel the much larger and better equipped occupying English army.
Director: David Mackenzie
Screenwriter(s): Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes
Producer(s): Gillian Berre
Cast: Chris Pine (Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, Stephen Dillane (King Edward I of England), Billy Howle (Edward, Prince of Wales), Sam Spruell (Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke), Callan Mulvey (John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch), Tony Curran (Angus Og Macdonald, Lord of Islay), James Cosmo (Robert Bruce Senior), Florence Pugh (Elizabeth Burgh)
Editor: Jake Roberts
Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
Production Designer: Donald Graham Burt
Casting Director(s): Kathleen Crawford, Francine Maisler
Fans of Braveheart who’ve been twirling their thumbs waiting for a sequel to the uber-popular epic directed by and starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace can stop waiting. Netflix’s Outlaw King is the unofficial sequel to Braveheart. Outlaw King, directed by David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water), begins with the vow of peace between Scotland and England, marking an end to the fighting that William Wallace was a driving force behind. Wallace doesn’t make an appearance — Gibson’s long locks do not return. Outlaw King focuses on the Lords of Scotland who must bow to King Edward I, agreeing that they will not interfere in his rule of their country or the heavy taxes levied upon its people. Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine from Wonder Woman and Hell or High Water) is part of the yielding group, until the Scottish people make him change his mind.
King Edward I and his buffoon son, Edward, Prince of Wales, aren’t going to back down from a fight, and when Robert, now King of Scots, commits murder and rallies men to support the war for independence against England, the Dragon Banner is raised. That means no chivalry — the fighting can and will be dirty. And it is.
Is Outlaw King Really a Braveheart Sequel?
No. But it may as well be put in that category since the death of William Wallace begets what occurs in the entire film. Stringing up Wallace’s arm at the border of England and Scotland sets off a fury of anger in the Scottish people, causing Bruce to convince his brothers to break the vow they made of peace to King Edward I and fight for a free Scotland. Their story is compelling on its own without the William Wallace angle, but it’s important all the same. Outlaw King may not have the scope or intensity of Braveheart, but it manages to keep your interest. It doesn’t help the debate over whether Netflix-produced movies are big-screen productions shown on a small screen — it couldn’t survive a theatrical run. Consider how many movies do get theatrical runs, though, that make you wonder how it happened and Outlaw King looks better as a way to pass a couple hours before bed, especially if you like your entertainment bloody.
14th Century Death Is Gruesome
There’s absolutely no skimping on the amount of blood, (literal) guts, and savage death in Outlaw King. The 14th century wasn’t the most glamorous time to live and it definitely wasn’t a place you’d want to die. Arrows, swords, chainmail, and other weapons deliver death to men young and old without mercy. And Editor Jake Roberts (Brooklyn) makes sure that you don’t miss any of the gory mess. This makes for some decent battle scenes, with men fighting for their lives in water, mud, or on solid ground.
You don’t particularly care who lives or dies, except when it involves a horse — that tugs at your heart — because history has already been written. This is just a retelling of it. And it’s no secret what transpired during the early battles between Robert the Bruce and King Edward’s forces, with the largest battle in the film — Loudoun Hill — being dramatic as it should be. Loudoun Hill changed everything for Robert the Bruce and the Scots who supported him. You will feel that tinge of pride in the Scots who went up against a powerful foe to protect what is rightfully theirs and succeed. Everyone loves a David vs Goliath story, right? A good love story helps, too.
A Touch of Romance
You can’t produce a historical drama and leave out the romance. It’s required. Outlaw King bumbles it a bit, but it’s still there for those who need flowers and sentiment to get through the bloodbaths. Robert the Bruce and his second wife, Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh from The Commuter and upcoming Malevolent), have their arranged marriage early on in Outlaw King, and Bruce isn’t quick to consummate the union. He somewhat courts Margaret, and she charms him with her insight and loyalty. It’s sweet and helps ticks off boxes as to why you should like Robert the Bruce: he’s respectful of women, loves his daughter and wants to protect her (even from a new mother). He’s also clearly protecting himself, but to really feel that Outlaw King would have had to delve deeper into the character development of Robert the Bruce — it doesn’t.
And just in case you don’t care to see Chris Pine with another women, but would like to get a glimpse of ALL of him, Outlaw King delivers. It’s a rarity for full male nudity to appear in mainstream movies, and especially not by movie stars. Chris Pine does show all during one scene in Outlaw King. Blink and you might miss it (because it’s a short scene/cut, not for the reason you’re thinking).
Outlaw King isn’t an epic telling of Robert the Bruce and Scottish independence. It has a few great landscape shots to set the time and place, but relies on small-scale sets the majority of the time. Even castles feel small. As for production design, it is actually quite realistic. There’s a lack of opulence that makes everything more believable, right down to the crown Robert the Bruce wears. Outlaw King does falter, though, in its dialogue. Quite often it’s too modern, tinged with sarcasm that doesn’t feel right given the time period.
If you had to put Outlaw King in a box, it would be that of made-for-TV. That doesn’t make it a terrible way to spend your time, but it isn’t going to linger in your memory for long. But, it just may be a good way to prepare for Mary Queen of Scots (in theatres December 7, 2018). If it weren’t for Robert the Bruce, his descendant Mary would never have ascended to the throne.