Directed by David Mackenzie and starring A-lister Chris Pine as historically famed King of the Scots, Robert the Bruce, Outlaw King received mixed reviews. In the end, the film was not well-received. Mackenzie and Pine were no strangers to each other, having worked together less than five years ago on “Hell or High Water”, that which seemingly sat better with critics. Upon taking the time to read these reviews, I was able to conclude that Outlaw King was wholly seen as a piece that shows that hard work and dedication can still ultimately lead to a flop.
The film begins with the surrender to King Edward I (Stephen Dillane), in which the Scottish nobles take part in a ceremonial handshake and group spectacle to witness the immolation of the last standing Scottish castle. Afterward, they mimic niceties while in attendance of a feast and Robert is given the gift of an arranged marriage to the goddaughter of the King, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh). After Dillane’s performance as King Stannis Baratheon in the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones, I am thrilled anytime I see his name in the credits. He played his role fantastically. I loved his character and adored the fact that his prickly, deadpan ways followed him from Winterfell to 14th century Scotland.
All is well, however dreary, in the lives of the failed rebels, as they live on in their own homes, with their family lands gifted back to them by the amicable King Edward. Robert the Bruce and his lovely new wife have a “cool to the touch” marriage, in which they speak to each other as if they are new roommates instead of newlyweds. Robert’s father is quick to remind his son that he should be grateful for such a prize as Elizabeth, since this arrangement showed they held the king’s favor. Florence Pugh plays a strong-willed young woman who knows her duty and also knows how to fulfill her role as needed. And she just adores Robert’s little daughter, Marjorie (Josie O’Brien), which gives her extra points in the eyes of her husband and her audience.
I will say that I was concerned when I saw that Chris Pine was playing Robert the Bruce. I just knew that I would feel like he is more duly fit for This Means War type roles, where he was the pretty one and Tom Hardy plays the tough one. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Robert is a strong character, but he is a sensitive man as well. He is still mourning the loss of his first wife and he carries the burden of raising a motherless child as well. Pine gave all that was required to give life to a character with such baggage. How hard it must be to pack so much sensitivity and masculinity into such a character. Critics are calling Pine’s portrayal as a weak attempt at “the strong, but silent type”. I couldn’t disagree more.
The murder of William Wallace, historical renowned “last man standing” in the rebellion of Scotland against the Crown, started the ball rolling for Robert and his comrades. We all remember the tear jerking scene from Braveheart (1995), where a young Mel Gibson was disemboweled. “FREEDOM”! We know from history lessons that he was also drawn and quartered and parts of his body were sent all over Scotland as warning. Gibson would have turned pale as a sheet to see what they did to his body in the streets in 2018’s Outlaw King. The desecration of Wallace fired the rebellion once more and Robert the Bruce answered the call. He brings along the ragtag James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who wants nothing except the restoration of his surname. I honestly found myself rooting for this character more than any other, despite the fact that he was a lunatic. But he also brings a familiar face, Angus McFadyen (Tony Curran). I wrote a piece on Tony Curran’s performance in Calibre not too long ago. Let me tell you, this man can transcend the centuries.
I spent the entire time fearing for Marjorie and Elizabeth because as we all know, the rules aren’t fair in love and war. Their plight was beyond unfair, but that is the price to pay for war and rebellion. The King’s health is failing him, so he sends his overly entitled son, Edward (Billy Howle), Prince of Wales, to do his dirty work for him. He was Outlaw King’s Joffrey Baratheon in every sense of the word and I truly hope that reference is not lost on too many readers. Stannis, I mean Edward, sends his son off with a ceremonial face slap and my favorite words of the entire film: “Let this blow be the last you receive unanswered”.
Out of all the articles I read, Outlaw King was called a David and Goliath story over and over. I get it, Robert the Bruce did not have the numbers and he did experience a more favorable outcome than William Wallace. But I personally don’t want to compare Robert the Bruce to the biblical pipsqueak, David. Robert was a force to be reckoned with from the beginning, as were all those Scotsmen of the time who lost their lives and land in those dark times. In this Netflix Original, I think they were portrayed admirably and I humbly proclaim that this film deserved much more appreciation than it received.