Actor Angus Macfadyen has done something rare in movie history. 25-years ago, Macfadyen played historical Scottish figure Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic “Braveheart”. Now — a quarter-century later — Macfadyen has reprised that same role in a new film he also produced and co-wrote.
So in a sense, “Robert the Bruce” (available on VOD) is a semi-sequel to “Braveheart”. It resumes the story of Scotland’s quest for independence — and the leaders and commoners who fought to make it happen.
A few years after Gibson’s William Wallace was executed by the English (he only gets a brief, early mention here), Robert continues the cause. But a series of defeats in battle have taken the spirit out of the aging king. He tells his men he’s done fighting and sends them home. But there’s a price on Robert’s head, so quietly retiring is easier said than done. The injured, weary king is discovered, near death, by a family living in the wilderness. They nurture Robert back to health, but put themselves in danger in the process.
The snowy Scotland landscape serves as a nice backdrop for “Robert the Bruce”. This is a rich, character-driven saga that’s modeled much-like a classic sports movie: the fading coach/boxer on the verge of retirement gets sucked back in, inspired to give his all one final time. Bruce! Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!
“RTB” takes its sweet time, but it’s a medieval drama that never ventures into dull territory. The cast delivers natural, wholesome performances, led by Macfadyen, and real-life brother/sister Gabriel and Talitha Bateman (who play young cousins). Anna Hutchison, who plays the family’s strong, defiant leader, has the most complex role. Director Richard Gray frames the story from her perspective — with the ultimate reason revealed in the final scene.
Smartly, the violence isn’t disproportionately grandiose. If you’re looking for rousing speeches, bloody battles and an overall sense of spectacle, re-watch Gibson’s Oscar-winner on Prime Video. “Robert the Bruce” presents a much quieter, more personal “inside story” of loyalty and destiny amidst a desperate country’s fight for freedom.
LCJ GRADE: A-
Running Time: 124 min.