When it comes to epic films, you can find plenty of types of epics. There’s the war epic, the historical epic, the adventure epic, and even the biographical epic. If you like historical epics, you may also notice such films described in terms of the historical period covered, like World War II epics and Vietnam war epics. Speaking of historical epics, here’s one kind you might not see too often: the medieval epic. And there’s one movie that definitely comes to mind when I think about movies set in the Middle Ages: the 1995 film Braveheart.
This is an example of a movie that has a great initial premise to work with. In the late 13th century, the King of Scotland dies without a heir, and unfortunately, the King of England, who is a tyrant named Edward the Longshanks (played by Patrick McGoohan), thinks he has the right to seize Scotland and rule it as his own. Even worse is the kind of law that the king wants, one that is cruel and selfish. For example, King Edward believes that a lord has the right to sleep with a newlywed Scottish woman on her wedding night. Obviously, a lot of dramatic things could happen as a result of this setup.
The one who is in the center of all of this is a Scot named William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson, who also produces and directs this film). As a boy, he witnessed members of his family murdered while trying to fight back against the English. As a grown man, he falls in love with a woman named Murron (played by Catherine McCormack) and eventually weds her in secret. Unfortunately, an English soldier tries to rape Murron, who fights back. And for that, she is executed. This leaves Wallace shaken to the core, giving him a very strong motive to lead the Scots in a rebellion against the English.
That’s all you need to know about the story. It’s a simple plot that is stretched out over a three-hour running time. The events leading up to Murron’s execution actually comprise the first third of the movie. The rest of the film is a war epic, featuring breathtaking and heartstopping battle scenes. If you love exciting action scenes in war movies, you won’t be disappointed here. The major battle scene halfway through the movie is really worth seeing, along with the other battle scenes. (Note that the movie has graphic violence, with gruesome ways to die that include beheadings, dismemberments, burnings, and stabbings.)
While this movie is a war epic, it’s not 100% battle scenes. There are moments that move the story along and show us what Wallace wants to do next after each victory against the English. One thing that becomes clear is that Wallace wants to take his conquest to the end, with the objective of defeating the English throne, not just winning freedom for Scotland. As all of this is happening, there’s another thing to admire: the cinematography. When the film starts, you already get a chance to admire the luscious green landscape of Scotland. It’s clearly a beautiful place to live. And it’s that scenery where the battles take place so that the grass becomes heavily stained with blood. Some dramatic scenes are shot in this landscape when it’s nighttime or when there is heavy fog. Really, Braveheart is a visual wonder, not just a well-written story.
I have to admit that this is one of those great movies that I was pretty late in seeing for the first time. Lots of people I knew over the years who said they saw Braveheart loved the movie. Now I can see why. It has bloody action, romantic drama, great visuals, fine cast performances, and a sweeping historical story to hold it all together. I also think Mel Gibson shines as both an actor, producer, and director. Most importantly, watching Braveheart gave me a chance to learn about and understand William Wallace, a brave man who fought against tyranny for what was right. Overall, Braveheart is an epic that works on many levels.
Anthony’s Rating: 10/10