Intended as a sequel, of sorts, to Braveheart, Robert the Bruce sees Angus MacFadyen (Braveheart, Alive) reprise his role as the titular Scottish king. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies with all the right ingredients – but no spark.
MacFadyen, who co-wrote Robert the Bruce with Eric Belgau, brings a suitable mixture of melancholy, warmth, and grit to the king. Anna Hutchinson (The Cabin in the Woods) also gives a moving performance as Morag, a widow who remains loyal to Robert the Bruce even as the rest of her clan has abandoned him.
The cinematography, while somewhat formulaic, is fine. There are some nice shots and the wintery landscape is, every now and then, downright stunning. The first act has some pacing issues and there is an overload of obnoxious exposition in the film’s opening ten minutes, but this could be easily forgiven if other aspects were skillfully handled.
Robert the Bruce seems to be trying to convince me that this story about a sick and defeated man, and the family that refuses to turn their backs on him, is the story of kings and nations and wars that determine the course of history. Maybe it is, but we don’t see any of it. The film covers a small period of Robert the Bruce’s life and career, one in which not much really happens. The major battles and events of historical significance take place off-screen.
The film takes for granted that its audience cares about the protagonist and is invested in his struggle. This is a devastating mistake, and one which no amount of acting talent can compensate for. We are never shown why the English are bad and need to be kicked out of Scotland. We are never shown what makes Robert the Bruce a strong and capable leader worth fighting for.
A large part of the appeal of an epic is watching events unfold that, while based on history, seem larger than life on screen. The problem is that I want an historical epic like this to make me feel something; I want swords and battles, yes, but I also want emotion and high stakes and loyalty and betrayal and adventure. I want heroes I can believe in. The scope of Robert the Bruce is just too… small.
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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage