Out­law King

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews Film - PB

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.

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