Braveheart (1995): Looking Back Twenty Years

That clip was from Braveheart which is my latest entry into our Looking Back Twenty Years series of reviews. The year was 1995, and Braveheart walked off with 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. Mel Gibson would not direct for about 8 years had passed until 2003. It was then that he directed his controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, which was released near the end of February, 2004.

I recall seeing Braveheart in a big movie house in Manhattan and was quite impressed at the time. But twenty years have passed and all of us see things with different eyes. Attitudes have changed, both personally and collectively. Besides that, both film makers and movie stars have grown older, and some have exhibited strange or awkward behaviors which cannot help but color our memories.

On top of all of that, we just get smarter as we age, in general. Not because we are truly gaining wisdom, but rather because information arrives in our brains much quicker, and we have the benefit of added life experiences and maturity. Okay, maybe maturity is not as universal as one would hope.

Braveheart was filled with bravery and courage, with romance and dastardy acts, and with heroes of epic proportions as well as villains never to be forgotten. As much as this film was about William Wallace the freedom fighter for Scotland, it was also about the inequities of the English nobility and rulers.

But when you look past the clanging swords, the brutal deaths on the fields of battle, the English were always wearing helmets and protective gear on their heads, while the Scots and the Irish did not. The English were tidy in one sense, but oppressive and morally corrupt in another sense.

Longshanks: The trouble with Scotland is that it is full of Scots.

Wallace and his cohorts were manly, rough and tumble, shaggy and long haired, but beneath their gruff exteriors – they were a gentle and loving folk. Which is why this film is as much about Wallace’s love for Murran as it is about fighting to rid the land of the oppressors.

The scenes with Murran and Wallace courting and loving each other forever are almost so ethereal. so nearly spiritual, and romantic, that we are helpless before the images. We are carried along by Gibson’s canvas of visual splendors. And Murran’s smile would melt the heart of anyone. Which is why her demise was so difficult – not only for Wallace himself, but also for the viewers.

By the way, when Wallace visualized Murran just before he died, this was a powerful moment in cinema. So much so, that Ridley Scott in Gladiator, gave Russell Crowe‘s Maximus a similar scene as Maximus lay dying on the floor of Rome’s Colisseum.

The way Wallace rallied and urged his men to fight is one of the most thrilling and inspirational speeches of encouragement in any film ever made. Wallace was learned – he spoke French, and understood Latin. He was also fearless and unafraid of death.

To the English Commander Wallace would say:

Lower your flags and march straight back to England, stopping at every home you pass by to beg forgiveness for a hundred years of theft, rape, and murder. Do that and your men shall live. Do it not, and every one of you will die today.

To his own men Wallace would say:

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

The film impresses visually, as well as spiritually. Who really cares if William Wallace did or did not look like what we would call a rock star in today’s world. Peter Frampton wore long hair and curls as he was a prominent ‘pretty boy of rock music’ back in the day, so Gibson took that look and incorporated it into his film.

And that blue war paint was a masterful touch was it not? My thinking was that Wallace needed it.

William Wallace: Sons of Scotland! I am William Wallace.
Young Soldier: William Wallace is seven feet tall!
William Wallace: Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds. And if HE were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.

Okay, I won’t be swayed by talk of historical inaccuracies. Nor do I care that Prima Noctis, a ‘law’ that enabled English nobles to sleep with any new bride on the night of her marriage was a made up myth to denigrate the nobles rather than evil law. This was in fact a key element in the film, and it enabled all of us who watched to take great joy in Wallace’s revenge.

But we must also remember and recall the wonderful acting. Patrick McGoohan as Longshanks was memorable.

As was Sophie Marceau as the Princess Isabella, sent as an emissary by Longshanks to the Scots, who said to a dying Longshanks:

You see? Death comes to us all. But before it comes to you, know this: your blood dies with you. A child who is not of your line grows in my belly. Your son will not sit long on the throne. I swear it.

And to the many fine British, Scotsmen, and Irishmen who also appeared in the film, my hat comes off in a salute.

Yes, the film may not please everyone. but most have applauded the film. If you liked Mel Gibson in the Mad Max films, then consider that this film is closer to Die Hard than Max. If you thought that Gibson’s hair in this film was a bit over the top – well then, consider that this whole film was meant to be epic sized.  All the way up to the violence, the way too brutal British, and even that blue War-paint – all of it meant to capture one’s fancy. A film meant to entertain, and a film that was quite long (178 minutes = a tad under three hours) but as it played – it wasn’t too long at all.

This was only Gibson’s second directorial effort, and he’ll never achieve a success like this again. But I had to include it in this series of Looking Back Twenty Years – just wouldn’t have been right to find too many things to use to disparage the film. While I don’t and probably you don’t either always agree with the Oscars about Best film, this one surely has earned its Oscars. By the way, the Looking Back series is not posted with any kind of rankings in mind.

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