Those who lambast Mel Gibson for his supposedly anti-Jewish sentiments in his recent production "The Passion of the Christ" would do well to remember his anti-English, and indeed anti-gay, portrayals in this otherwise superlative action film. Gibson's epic, bloody romance was never meant to be a factual account of Scottish legend William Wallace, but has stimulated more interest in the real thing than a mere documentary ever could.
Set in Britain in the 13th Century the plot, based largely on myth about the Scottish renegade, sees a young William Wallace (James Robinson) witness the brutal murder of his father (Sean Lawlor) at the hands of English occupiers. He is taken under the wing of his wise Uncle Argyle (Brian Cox) and grows up under his guardianship. Wallace (now played by Mel Gibson) returns home an educated man, falls in love with a beautiful local girl Murron (Catherine MacCormack) and marries her. However, when English soldiers rape and murder his wife, Wallace mounts a rebellion, bringing him into conflict with both the English King Edward Longshanks (Patrick MacGoohan) and duplicitious Scottish nobles, led by Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFayden)...
The film makes no effort whatsoever in regards to historical accuracy, and the the characters come off (with variable success) as simplistic stereotypes. There is nothing wrong with most of this, but some stereotypes could have been avoided, in particular the portrayal of King Edward's son as a snivelling homosexual fop. By necessity the English are the villains, with the Scots either passionate warriors or double-dealing nobles. Whilst the anti-English sentiment is a touch overdone (a character exclaims "Excellent!" when he's told he'll get to kill the English), it doesn't seriously harm the film.
Gibson has thankfully not Americanised his tale by asking American actors to assume fake Scottish brogues. With the exception of Gibson himself, almost everyone's accent here is natural and the film is better for it. Gibson delivers his all as Wallace, managing a passable Scottish accent. His Wallace is a Scottish Mad Max, only savvier, more sentimental and with a powerful patriotic streak. The character, though, lacks the ambiguity to make him a realistic personality. The film sees nothing questionable in Wallace invading England, effectively lowering himself to the level of his former oppressors.
As for the supporting players, Patrick MacGoohan quietly evinces menace as the ruthless King, and Sophie Marceau makes the most of her limited role as the Princess of Wales. Angus McFayden gives a sympathetic portrayal of a torn Robert the Bruce, and Brendan Gleeson and David O'Hara provide solid backup as Wallace's trustiest allies.
The battle scenes in the film are frenetically staged, with lots of quick editing plus copious amounts of blood and gore. They are well put together, but the endless slicing, dicing and skewering becomes repetitive after a while. Woven into the tale is a gentle Celtic score by James Horner.
Whilst it has stirred interest in Scottish interest and heritage (including the life of the real William Wallace), taken on its own terms, "Braveheart" is an enjoyable action film and should not be taken any more seriously than that.