The New European - - News - BY JA­SON SOLOMONS

Robert the Bruce – and the Scot­tish land­scape – get the big screen treat­ment

JA­SON SOLOMONS talks to the di­rec­tor of a grip­ping new film about Robert the Bruce in which the Scot­tish land­scape plays a lead­ing role

Seven hun­dred years may seem like a long time in pol­i­tics, but judg­ing by the bit­ter di­vi­sions of medieval Eng­land and Scot­land as shown in new epic movie Out­law King, things don’t re­ally change that much. Not even the hair­styles.

With the story of Robert the Bruce and his bat­tles against Eng­land’s oc­cu­py­ing King Ed­ward in 1306, Scot­tish di­rec­tor David Macken­zie has fi­nally got a longges­tat­ing pas­sion project onto screens and, when I meet him, he’s sport­ing a mag­nif­i­cent long, black beard, the sort of thing any war­rior, or Harry Pot­ter’s Ha­grid (played by Scots gi­ant Rob­bie Coltrane) would be proud of.

“Well, I thought I’d get in touch with all my char­ac­ters,” says Macken­zie, while also ac­knowl­edg­ing that he wouldn’t look out of place in a

Ed­in­burgh hip­ster cafe or Glas­gow craft brew­ery. “The con­tem­po­rary as­pect of Robert the Bruce’s story is what res­onated,” he says, more se­ri­ously. “So while fa­cial hair is trendy right now, it was more ex­plor­ing the po­lit­i­cal as­pects and el­e­ments of hero­ism and na­tional pride that in­ter­ested me.”

And in­deed that’s what will grip any viewer of Out­law King, along with its ma­jes­tic use of Scot­tish land­scape and the sheer epic size of the bat­tling armies and an­cient cas­tles. It’s an old-fash­ioned spec­ta­cle, com­plete with horses and ar­mour, the sort of thing rarely seen in Bri­tish movies these days – I had to think back to Ken­neth Branagh’s Henry V for any com­par­i­son.

“That’s what I wanted,” says Macken­zie, who took ad­van­tage of his ca­reer-high with 2016 Os­car-nom­i­nated Amer­i­can thriller Hell or High Water to break through into big bud­get film­mak­ing, at­tract­ing the new money of Net­flix to the story of one of his he­roes. Known as an in­die film maker,

Macken­zie had made sev­eral Scot­tish films be­fore (Hal­lam Foe, Young Adam, Per­fect Sense, The Last Great Wilder­ness) but noth­ing ap­proach­ing this scale.

“I was def­i­nitely brought up on the story of Robert the Bruce and con­sid­ered him a na­tional hero,” says Macken­zie. “I al­ways felt he was done an in­jus­tice in the film of Brave­heart [in which he be­trays William Wal­lace] and this was my time to put that right.”

Bruce, whose most fa­mous bat­tle as King of Scot­land was at Ban­nock­burn in 1314, was, many his­to­ri­ans as­sert, the real ‘Brave­heart’ and he was a sup­porter of the rebel Wal­lace, who we do see in this new film, although only in bits – his hung, drawn and quar­tered body parts turn up in var­i­ous Scot­tish towns as the English make an ex­am­ple of what comes from in­sur­rec­tion.

“There’s a sense that as a Scot­tish na­tional hero, Robert is al­most too dan­ger­ous to touch for a film maker, but the com­plex­i­ties of that was what at­tracted me, fol­low­ing a man who goes from no­ble, to mur­derer, to king to out­law then, through pol­i­tics and war, back to the king who led Scot­land to recog­ni­tion as an in­de­pen­dent king­dom. It’s a great come­back story, a story of per­sis­tence, like the spi­der con­tin­u­ally build­ing his web in the chil­dren’s story about Robert we all grew up with.”

Macken­zie’s im­pres­sive achieve­ment in Out­law King is to make the com­plex web of fam­ily, pol­i­tics, obli­ga­tions and loy­al­ties that was the feu­dal sys­tem both com­pre­hen­si­ble and ex­cit­ing, while root­ing the ac­tion in the sweep­ing land­scape of Scot­land, where he man­aged to shoot the film over 65 au­tumn days.

“It’s a film about a land, so it would have been aw­ful to not shoot there,” he tells me. “We did have New Zealand as back up, but thank­fully that never came into the pic­ture and we were able to use the per­fect win­dow of time – the au­tumn. I’ve al­ways wanted to shoot a movie in Scot­land at this time of year, be­cause it’s the most beau­ti­ful time for me, that stran­gled, last light of the sum­mer rays, the colours chang­ing. I’ve al­ways loved that land­scape and some of it hasn’t changed in 700 years and it’s still a refuge, an in­spi­ra­tion and the soul of the peo­ple. We got it all – rain, fog, sun, storms, wind – but all at the right time, just when we wanted it.”

His­tor­i­cal sites fea­tur­ing in the film in­clude Lin­lith­gow Palace, Craig­mil­lar Cas­tle, Dun­fermline Abbey, Borth­wick Cas­tle and Doune Cas­tle, as well as the Uni­ver­sity of Glas­gow and the city’s cathe­dral. “We also prac­ti­cally in­vaded the Isle of Skye and took over ev­ery ho­tel room on the is­land,” re­calls Macken­zie.

While the pro­duc­tion boasts im­pec­ca­ble tech­ni­cal cre­den­tials, with ev­ery­thing to the cos­tumes and hair hav­ing the right feel, I won­der how the pol­i­tics of the piece chime to­day?

Out­law King ar­rives amid fever­ish po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions in Eng­land and Scot­land, where ques­tions of in­de­pen­dence and ties with Europe seem as rel­e­vant now as then.

“Look,” says Macken­zie, “it’s re­ally a tough one. What I’m say­ing with the film is that this is a 700-year-old old story that hap­pened in a coun­try that was mil­i­tar­ily oc­cu­pied by a neigh­bour­ing coun­try – so that’s very dif­fer­ent to now and any par­al­lels with con­tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tions are there­fore ten­u­ous.

“But you can’t help notic­ing how things come around – one of the things that Robert did best was unify his coun­try, so I was de­ter­mined not to make this about di­vi­sions, which the re­cent ref­er­en­dums in both Scot­land and Eng­land have cer­tainly done their best to ex­ac­er­bate. Of course, an epic movie about a medieval uni­fier is go­ing to chime dur­ing an era of di­vi­sion, but in com­plex and dif­fi­cult ways, not glar­ingly ob­vi­ous ones. The last thing I wanted was to be tak­ing a per­spec­tive that causes fur­ther di­vi­sion – but peo­ple can, and I’m sure will, take from it what they want.”

It’s a very care­ful an­swer but then, amid the mud, bat­tles and the bloody re­venge, it’s a care­ful film, one that feels very dif­fer­ent from the rab­ble-rous­ing of Mel Gib­son. The English kings – played by an ex­cel­lent Stephen Dil­lane as the with­er­ingly caus­tic Ed­ward I and a star­tling turn from Billy Howle as his im­petu­ous, brat­tish son – are cer­tainly the vil­lains of the piece, yet Robert him­self (played by Amer­i­can star Chris Pine with im­pres­sive Scot­tish ac­cent) is full of flaws and guilty con­science. Mean­while, the film’s love in­ter­est is be­tween Robert and an English lady, El­iz­a­beth, played with real fight by ris­ing star Florence Pugh, cur­rently on our tele­vi­sion screens in The Lit­tle Drum­mer Girl.

“I tried to fo­cus on per­son­al­i­ties not na­tion­al­i­ties,” says Macken­zie. “That was how to get un­der the skin of a story, oth­er­wise it’s just a lot of jin­go­ism and that doesn’t make for a ma­ture his­tor­i­cal drama. I wanted to show that you can still take a dis­tanced view of his­tory even as sim­i­lar pas­sions con­tinue to run high, 700 years on.”


Pho­tos: Con­trib­uted

2 1 (1) LOCH SHOT: di­rec­tor David Macken­zie sur­veys the land­scape for an­other epic take. (2) AVENG­ING AN­GEL: Kick­ass and Avengers star Aaron Tay­lor John­son plays vi­o­lent rebel leader James Dou­glas (3) EPIC HERO: The Bruce


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