June 28, 2020
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray;
Stars Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Gabriel Bateman, Talitha Bateman, Brandon Lessard, Diarmaid Murtagh, Emma Kenney, Patrick Fugit, Jared Harris, Nick Farnell, Shane Coffey, Melora Walters.
The historical drama Robert the Bruce seems like what the result would be if Braveheart were made as a low-budget independent film instead of a big-budget blockbuster.
The comparison is apt, given that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning saga of Scottish hero William Wallace (recently re-released as a handsome 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook by Paramount. And Angus Macfadyen, who played Robert in Braveheart, returns to the role in Robert the Bruce, making it something of an under-the-radar sequel. In fact, according to some strains of folklore, the nickname Braveheart is more accurately applied to Robert the Bruce, the 14th century king of Scotland who led his people to independence from England.
Robert the Bruce depicts no major battles or sprawling adventures for its main characters. Rather, it’s a more personal story of a disheartened leader struggling to find the inspiration to carry his mission through to victory.
The film touches on a few legends regarding The Bruce, beginning with his defeat of John Comyn (Jared Harris) in hand-to-hand combat to claim the Scottish crown. Later, after suffering defeat after defeat in battle and on the run from local opportunists looking to cash in on a bounty placed on his head by the English, Robert hides out in a cave and witnesses a spider spin a web despite numerous hardhips — a famous Scottish tale that relates Robert’s resolve to fight on despite the odds.
Stumbling through the snow, Robert is found by the family of a young widow (Anna Hutchison), who nurse him back to health despite being pledged to support England. For much of the film, Robert is relegated to a background character, leaving the film as much about the spirit of the Scottish people who both inspired and drew inspiration from The Bruce, as it is about the legendary king himself.
Production of the film took on many forms through the years, with Macfadyen developing the project for more than a decade with hopes of returning to the character. The screenplay was eventually pared down from a Europe-spanning epic to the more intimate story of a family rescuing a man from the show who just happens to be the future king. Lest anyone forget the film’s origins, however, the name of William Wallace is dropped several times throughout the film, particularly during Robert’s battle with Comyn.
The story is a slow burn, but the cinematography is gorgeous, with snowy Montana effectively subbing in for Scotland for much of the film.
The Blu-ray offers a couple of good bonus materials, including a feature-length commentary track with Macfadyen and director Richard Gray, who aren’t shy about discussing the film as a companion to Braveheart.
Also included is a solid 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.