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Sunday Classics Matinee: Braveheart

by Robb Reel

If you've been playing our Home Game, it is plain to you by now that I love movies.  I have seen so many -- good, bad and ugly.  I would be hard-pressed to select one as my all-time favorite.

But if I had to...

This is the story of William Wallace... sort of.  By that, I mean that Braveheart is an adaptation of the legend of William Wallace, Scotland's greatest hero.  Randall Wallace earned an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay, inspired by a trip to his ancestral homeland to learn more about his Scottish roots.

Now, we've all heard/seen/read the tabloid stuff about Mel Gibson, about what he may or may not have done in real life and his mental makeup.  All that can make it easy to forget that he's a brilliant filmmaker and actor.  He won two Oscars: Best Director and, as one of the producers, Best Picture.  His embodiment of Wallace is perhaps the best role of his career.

Veteran character actor Patrick McGoohan is Edward I of England -- "Longshanks" -- who took advatnage of the power vacuum created in 1280 when Scotland's king died without an heir.  He is portrayed as a ruthless, almost bloodthirsty, perhaps psychopathic tyrant.  "The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."  He even grants pirmae noctis -- Google it --  to the English lords whom he's already given Scottish estates to "civilize" the Highlands.

After seeing his father and older brother among those slaughtered by English soldiers at the behest of Longshanks, Wallace means to avoid war.  He returns home from education abroad to "raise crops and, God willing a family."  He chooses Murron [Catherine McCormack], a childhood acquaintance, to be his wife,  Because of the aforementioned "right of the first night," they marry in secret.  That proves disastrous for Murron and sets off a chain reaction.

Meanwhile, Robert the Bruce, played by Glaswegian actor Angus MacFadyen, is the strongest claimant to the Scottish throne.  Backed by the nobles who aim to appease Longshanks, Robert is inspired by Wallace and his passion for true freedom for all men.  He and Wallace together actually represent the history of Scotland, as evidenced by their paired statues guarding the gate to the real Edinburgh Castle.

This is another film in which the supporting cast is just so rich.  Before he became a "that guy," Brian Cox [left] has a marvelous, albeit short, appearance as Uncle Argyle, who takes charge of William after his father's death, educates him in Latin and the world, and takes him on world travels, including a pilgrimage to Rome.  After playing the "mad" Irishman Stephen -- "the most wanted man on my island, except I'm not on my island, of course" -- David O'Hara has become a staple in many Gaelic-themed works.  Dubliner Brendon Gleeson -- yet another "that guy" -- is Hamish, lifelong best friend and aide de camp to Wallace.  Each is positively priceless in his role.

As a guy with a History degree, you'd think I would be put off by how factually inaccurate the film is.  Believe me, the whole thing is riddled with exaggerations, errors and more poetic license than you can shake a Claymore at.  The romance between Wallace and Isabella of France [Sophie Marceau], the Prince of Wales, never happened.  Her suggestion that her forthcoming child [the future Edward III of England] was fathered by Wallace -- whether it was supposed to be a ruse or the truth -- was nothing short of biologically impossible.  Instead of over-analyzing it, as too many critics and historians have, just go with it.  You can go back and read the facts later.  For now, the the sweeping score of James Horner take you away and just enjoy it.

I have always been proud of my Scots-Irish heritage.  I honor the fierceness, the tenacity, the loyalty and the thirst for true freedom.  I, too, have gone back and traced my roots.  I own a Claymore and wear the "belted plaid" -- my kilt -- on the special occasions.  The real truth in Braveheart is that it has inspired me and so many others to take that historian, genealogical and emotional journey back to the Highlands whence we came.

"Your heart is free... have the courage to follow it."