It is the early 1300s and Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), King of Scotland, has previously seen his old ally William Wallace beaten and executed by the English, who are currently ruling the land and have put a bounty on Robert's head. Much beleaguered, he admits to what men he has left that the fight is over and they should return home to their loved ones, before setting out on his own across the now-wintry countryside. But never mind that, because a family who are loyal to Robert like to tell themselves stories of his greatest victories, and matriarch Morag (Anna Hutchison), who has lost her husband in the wars, has mixed feelings about continuing the fighting…
Looking back on Braveheart and the way it caught the mood of not just Scotland, but the world, seems very strange now, since more than ever it appears to be the masochistic Messiah fantasy of a deeply troubled alcoholic with a real grudge against the English. Nationalists in Scotland embraced it since it painted those down south as absolute bastards to a man, and lead character Wallace's rallying cry of "FREEDOM!" has been returned to again and again, quite apart from the fact it's not as if Scotland was suffering under a dictatorship. That Braveheart had a poor grasp of history mattered not a jot, but more sober judgements will regard it as a reactionary bit of Hollywoodery.
One man who evidently didn't get Braveheart out of his system was Macfadyen, who played Robert the Bruce there too, probably because in Gibson's telling he was a weak-willed collaborator, so it's only fair he get to portray the Bruce as more heroic, especially with nobody from the original production aside from him having creative input - he could have given the King a tank if he really wanted. Alas, it appeared the only place he could get this made was America, and the snowy landscapes do look more like Montana than Scotland, just as the accents sound pretty dodgy since the cast were mostly Americans struggling with the Scots burr (one character is barely intellgible).
You cannot spend two hours of movie laughing at critical accent failure, of course, but aside from the occasional unintentional chuckle (the kids' bedtime story seems to be "and they were run through with swords and their throats were slashed wide open - right, time for bed!") this was a real slog, not even that interested in the titular King when we spent an intolerable amount of time with Morag's family. Even when Robert joins them after seeing the famed spider in his hiding place (a spider awake in the Scottish winter?!) this trudges along between speechifying and battle training - you'd better believe this is a pro-war movie. Occasionally we moved away from that darn croft, but that would be to visit a tepee housing a witch who has had a prophetic dream, more of that kind of lunacy and this might have been entertaining.
But mainly Robert the Bruce was excruciatingly boring, more a revisionist Western than a historical epic, and though this leads up to the Battle of Bannockburn we don't see any of it, just a Gibson-esque rally featuring about twenty people punching the air. Obviously this was made on a tight budget, but equally obviously it wanted to evoke memories of Braveheart, and even if you fell for that one hook, line and sinker you could not help but notice a vast chasm in accomplishment between that and this (say what you like about Mel's historical epics, they're not dull). Really this was an excuse to say horrible things about the English and pretend to kill some of them (though most of the casualties here are Scots turncoats), all with the misdirection of it being historically faithful, so they could say whatever they wanted (except they genuinely meant their hatred and bigotry). That this was a mostly American film wading into Scottish politics was bad enough, but that it presented violent events (many invented here) from the best part of a millennium ago as a sturdy basis for modern politics was borderline insulting. Music, sounding Irish, by Mel Elias.