John C Adams Reviews 'Outlaw King'
Updated: 18 hours ago
Outlaw King (2018, dir David Mackenzie)
However eagerly awaited this film was, I guarantee that our family has one of the most personal reasons for wanting to see it. One day, my daughter was coming home from a dance class when I found that my usual parking spot wasn't available because our town's oldest bridge had been closed for filming. I was, however, able to hang around down by the bridge and enjoy watching the extras stream back over it once filming ended. I don't often get to see something like that in the flesh, so naturally I was fascinated. My daughter wants to be a film director, so when she finally arrived via another route she was equally excited.
Personal back stories aside, the film stars Chris Pine, Florence Pugh and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with excellent supporting roles from Stephen Dillane (Stannis from GOT) and James Cosmo (Lord Commander Mormont from GOT). Great casting certainly helps to get an audience in the mood. This is history rather than fantasy, but I loved that the medieval feel worked in a way that often reminded me of fantasy even though this is in fact a true story.
It's 1304 and Robert the Bruce (Pine) is left jointly in charge of Scotland with his friend Lord Comyn by the English king Edward I (Dillane). A widower, Bruce is married to Edward's goddaughter Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh) to help ensure his loyalty to the crown. After his father (Cosmo) passes away regretting the trust he placed in the English king, Bruce feels more free to redefine the relationship between the House of Bruce and the monarchy on his own terms.
Bruce decides to plan another revolt against the English crown after witnessing the hostility of the Scottish people towards their southern rulers, but in the course of an argument with Comyn about the matter, Bruce loses his temper and murders him. He flees, acquiring a pardon from a Scottish Catholic Church eager to protect their spiritual independence from England. They offer Bruce the Scottish crown, and, when the English king hears of this, Bruce is declared an outlaw and his troubles really begin.
An equal focus on the conflict between the English crown and Scottish nobles at national level vying for control of Scotland, and the personal development of Bruce's feelings for Elizabeth, gave the film a variety of emotional tone that I really appreciated. Bruce struggles to welcome his new, much younger second wife because of his continued grieving for his late first wife. I felt incredibly sorry for both of them, however Elizabeth's motherly attitude to Bruce's young daughter (an excellent performance from Josie O'Brien) brings them closer together in time. The events of this period are compelling, but the personal was not forgotten in the face of the great march of history. It was a wonderful story to see brought to life on screen.
Lots of location filming made this cinematographically really special. Living right on the border between England and Scotland for several decades, many of the locations were very familiar to me. Scotland is such a beautiful country, and filming in a mixture of locations including central and Highland Scotland really brought that out.
Of course, the film's stand out performance was that delivered by Berwick's old bridge. Given that the town has moved from English to Scottish control and back again countless times in history, I personally found it quite amusing to discover that the bridge had been cast in the role of London Bridge. Even so, it drew deep to rise to the challenge. The Oscar's in the post, right?
Thank you for reading my 'Weekend Watchers' review. Please share your thoughts on this or any other historical drama you've enjoyed in the comments section below.
Many thanks to photographers S Mark, mirofoto and Jop Quiringdongo for providing the cover image for this blog post via Freeimages.com