David Mackenzie Brings Us Braveheart 2 at BFI

The shadow of Braveheart looms large. Without that depiction of gloriously chaotic battles where underdogs defeat a superior foe, we wouldn’t see half as many knights in muddy armour on screen today, nor the steady stream of medieval Scottish romances and rebellions on TV and film ever since. Early looks at director David Mackenzie’s take suggested he was aiming for something darker and more historical, but while the final result is considerably less anachronistic, it could almost be a direct sequel to Mel Gibson’s effort.

Chris Pine is on charismatic but reined-in form as the Bruce himself, reluctantly swearing fealty to England when we meet him, but soon taking up arms against them — despite knowing and fearing the cost of another failed rebellion. He’s similarly slow to move in his personal life. Still in mourning for his first wife, he greets the good match offered, or rather mandated, by King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) with dutiful distaste. The courageous and compassionate Elizabeth (Florence Pugh), however, quietly sets out to win him around, and convinces him she’s committed to his cause despite her English birth.

Mackenzie is strong on detail, beautifully depicting the sheer weirdness of noble marriage in the Middle Ages. If the love story is ultimately cut short — the cuts made to the film after its Toronto festival debut seem to have hit that subplot hard — there’s enough here to give the gloomy guerilla warfare a little lift. The battle scenes, meanwhile, are as spectacular as one could wish, judiciously filled out with CG but with enough physical heft to make you wince at the squelch of gore and muck and metal.

The BFI London Film Festival runs 10-21 October. For more info visit whatson.bfi.org.uk/ lff.

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