directed by Mel Gibson
(20th Century Fox, 1995)

Young William Wallace sees too much death in his childhood -- first, the hanged nobles of Scotland, betrayed by the English king, and second, his own father and brother, killed in a futile skirmish with English troops. He grows into a man seeking only peace, but blood follows him, honing the young man into a battle-hardened tactician driven to win Scotland back for the Scots.

Braveheart is not a wholly accurate retelling of Wallace's story. But it does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of a man who fought, not for personal gain or renown, but for his people and an ideal.

Steeped in history, Braveheart is criticized mostly for its liberties with the facts. Wallace's family was not as common as the film depicts. Details of his battles are simplified and dramatized for the screen. Heck, Wallace's allegiance wasn't even to Robert the Bruce, as suggested here; he favored John Balliol's claim to the Scottish throne. And the bits with the princess are just plain ridiculous. (She was only 4 when Wallace died.)

But Braveheart is more about a feeling more than a fact, and Mel Gibson's portrayal of William Wallace is powerful, passionate and inspiring.

Gibson's Wallace is all the things that a hero should be. Strong. Clever. Wise. Charismatic. And romantic, the trait most strongly emphasized in the film's first hour. As Wallace's childhood sweetheart and secret wife Murron, Catherine McCormack is absolutely radiant -- and her fate at the hands of the English is truly horrific.

The climactic scene that follows, a battle fueled by righteous anger, is simply magnificent -- a hallmark in epic filmmaking.

Battle scenes throughout Braveheart are exceptionally well choreographed, from the glory of Stirling to the heartbreak of Falkirk. Large-scale battles are spectacular, as are the small touches: the faces of the terrified Scots before Stirling, the arrogance of the English leaders, a rousing speech to rival Henry V's at Agincourt, the sound of a hundred arrows in the air, the awesome charge of the English horse.

Grandeur asiee, the cost of every battle is shown in very human terms. The pain and suffering caused in a war where men are laid open by blunt steel is always in the forefront, typified best by James Cosmo as the nearly indestructible Campbell.

The movie benefits from strong performances all around, from the ruthless Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), every inch a dread king, to Wallace's closest companions, Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Stephen (David O'Hara). Even Sophie Marceau performs well in her role, even though the part of Princess Isabelle is entirely fictional in this context and, truth be told, the weakest twist in the plot.

Enough credit cannot be given to James Horner's Oscar-nominated score, which evokes all the right moods and emotions with dramatic flair. Academy Awards for this film included Best Picture and Best Director (Gibson), all of which were well deserved.

Braveheart is exactly what it sets out to be -- a true homage to the Flower of Scotland, a hero of mythic proportions. If you haven't seen it yet, it's time. And if you have, you know how suited this movie is for repeated viewings.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 September 2003

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