Dir David Mackenzie Starring Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Rebecca Robin Length 121 mins Cert 18
David Mackenzie’s retelling of the Robert the Bruce story for Netflix is bold and watchable, with a spectacular final battle scene shot with flair by Barry Ackroyd. Here is the legendary defiance shown by the 14th-century Scottish insurrectionary, defying the hated English king and fighting a shrewd guerrilla war, luring enemy forces north and then securing a historic victory. Mackenzie has abolished the moment when Robert, hiding out in a cave, is supposedly inspired by the persistence of a spider climbing up its web. The film prefers to plunge us into the familiar zero sum Game of Thrones territory: a violent all-ornothing grab for power in a world of priests with pudding-bowl fringes, smoky outdoor fires, stray clucking chickens and great roistering feasts.
Chris Pine is the unfeasibly handsome Robert, with a reasonable Scottish accent. Stephen Dillane brings his distinctive world-weary menace to the role of the hated English tyrant Edward I. It is good to see James Cosmo lend his weight and force to the movie as Robert’s father.
There is an interesting single-take scene as the English king accepts the resentful fealty of the defeated Scottish lords. The problem with any heroic-myth version of Robert, though, is how to finesse the act that began his campaign for power: murdering his rival John Comyn (Callan Mulvey) before the altar at the church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries. The film has Comyn taunt Robert and effectively threaten to snitch on him to the English king, making Robert out to be a traitor. When Bruce stabs him, Pine has a wide-eyed, whathave-I-done expression before he is smartly forgiven by the Scottish clergy. The Scottish lords and people remain subdued while previous rebel William Wallace is at large. But once he is killed, the uprising is at hand.
It’s an enjoyable film, concluding with Robert’s defeat of the English, although the end titles are sheepish about the apparent abandoning of this for the Acts of Union 400 years later. “That’s another story,” they announce.