This article was originally published on Film Threat (November 17, 2018).
Outlaw King is a sweeping epic beautifully and brutally depicting Robert Bruce’s (Chris Pine) arduous efforts to unite all Scots and free Scotland from British rule. Braveheart made us familiar with the Scots’ graphically bloody plight for freedom in the 14th century. This film echoes similar sentiments, especially when William Wallace’s death inspires Bruce to boldly take action against the British monarchy.
While Wallace is fighting in the Battle of Falkirk, Bruce obeys his father’s (James Cosmo) wishes and reluctantly pledges fealty to King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane). The monarchy marks this alliance with an arranged marriage between sweet Lady Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) and hesitantly accommodating Lord Bruce. The stage is set for relative peace, but all goodwill is lost when the Brits savagely disembody Wallace and suspend parts of him throughout England and Scotland as a warning to all Scots. The chilling sight of Wallace’s severed torso prompts Bruce to break his pledge and rally his people in the fight for justice and freedom.
“…Robert Bruce’s arduous efforts to unite all Scots and free Scotland from British rule.”
In all aspects of his life, Bruce is clearly a man of honor and decency. He is a loving father to his little girl, an understanding gentleman to his bride, and a fiercely loyal brother and friend. He would not instigate a war without merit, and he does not want to be king for selfish and superficial reasons. His only goal is to serve his people, not to rule over them and stake claim to their land. Conversely, King Edward and his maniacal son (Billy Howle) are self-serving tyrants.
The Prince of Wales is a true foil to Bruce. Upon hearing of the Scots’ efforts, England raises the dragon flag, disregarding all chivalry in battle. The result is horrifying. Prince Edward ruthlessly pilages his way through Scotland in search of the ever evading Bruce and tries luring him out by violently striking where it hurts him the most – his family.
David Mackenzie has artfully crafted a visually stunning film. Panoramic views capture beautiful and romantic landscapes. Viewers are drawn into the narrative as the camera circles around Bruce during intimate conversations and suspenseful confrontations. He tastefully depicts gruesome and visceral battle sequences. Blood splatters across the screen during hand-to-hand combat and swords impale soldiers, but it is done so with much more reserve than the haunting gore excessively illustrated in Braveheart. The climactic battle will leave you breathless, without making you feel disgusted.
“…a gripping, moving and grand film full of spellbinding performances.”
As for the much talked about nudity. Pine made a valid point on the publicity circuit. Full nudity is expected from women, but not from men. If an actor bares all, it is taboo or mystifying. A big deal is made out of it, and that is not fair to either gender. There is nothing salacious about Pine’s exposure because it happens organically – once during a tender love scene and another time while bathing in nature. These fleeting moments do not (and should not) distract from the greatness of this film in its entirety.
Outlaw King is a gripping, moving and grand film full of spellbinding performances. Pine effortlessly embodies Bruce’s conviction, bravery, and compassion. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a scene-stealer as the ravenous James Douglas, who loyally serves Bruce and seeks justice for his family. Pugh is enchanting as Elizabeth, a strong and smart woman who supports her husband’s noble efforts and is willing to sacrifice her life for their beliefs. Howle is frighteningly compelling as the Prince of Wales. His scenes with the incredible Dillane are absolutely chilling. The supporting cast is equally mesmerizing.
Bottom line: You do not want to miss out on this supremely entertaining, vividly illuminating, and brilliantly well-rounded film.
Outlaw King (2018) Directed by David Mackenzie. Written by Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes. Starring Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh.
9 out of 10 stars