Outlaw King (2018)

Outlaw King
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes, David Harrower, Mark Bomback
Cast: Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tony Curran, Stephen Dillane, Rebecca Robin, Billy Howle, Sam Spruell, Jonny Phillips, Ben Clifford, Jamie Maclachlan, Duncan Lacroix, Kevin Mains, James Cosmo
Seen on: 11.10.2022

King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane) has just successfully conquered the North and the Scottish are expected to bow to their new King. Among those Scots is Robert Bruce (Chris Pine), a leader among his people who is grudgingly willing to play along in the face of England’s superior forces. King Edward decides that Robert should get married to Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh), and Robert also complies with that. But feeling increasingly that Edward missmanages Scotland, to put it mildly, Robert soon decides that he has to claim the title of King for himself. With other worthy fighters like James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Angus Og Macdonald (Tony Curran), he mounts a rebellion despite the overwhelming English force.

Outlaw King is one hell of a boring film. Any semblance of interest gets lost in the gray color scheme and the mud. What the audience is left with is quite paralyzing in the way it doesn’t draw you in.

The film poster showing Robert Bruce (Chris Pine), James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh) and Angus Og Macdonald (Tony Curran) standing beneath a yellow flag.

I’m not the world’s biggest history nerd, so historical dramas are not exactly the kind of thing that draws me in that much. But with that cast, particularly Pugh and Taylor-Johnson, I couldn’t stay away from this one. Having seen it now, I think I probably should have done so anyway. Nothing about the film really works. Not even the performances that should have been a lot better (but with the script, it was really hard)

The characterization is flat for the most part. While a lot of the characters – like Elizabeth or Douglas – get some interesting starting points (which is more than can be said for others), the film gets lost in its own epicness and forgets to make something of those things. Emblematic for me is the reluctant love story between Elizabeth and Robert. The complicated start with both of them forced into a marriage neither was looking for, in the end the love they find for each other basically boils down to Robert not raping Elizabeth and having a cute daughter and so she absolutely falls for him which includes renouncing her own family.

A battle scene, with Robert Bruce (Chris Pine) in the middle.

Robert Bruce’s rebellion is not a particularly fun story, and I didn’t expect it to be lighthearted, but the film is downright dreary, and not just because of the plot. It seems that everything is gray and muddy. The film, too, notices that things may get a bit boring, and so it gives us comic relief with Douglas and Macdonald – comic relief that is not only sexist, but also entirely uncomfortable and doesn’t achieve its goal in the end. Instead of giving the film a bit of emotional variety, it just underscores the lack of it.

In short it’s the kind of film that a history non-fan like me fears to get when we hear historical drama. One that is more interested in (frankly impenetrable) battle scenes where everybody is soon so muddy you have no idea anymore what is going on than in characters. I don’t doubt that Robert Bruce’s story is interesting. But this take on it definitely wasn’t.

Robert Bruce (Chris Pine) looking critically.

Summarizing: nope.

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