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“Robert The Bruce” Never Brings The Past To Life

Historical epics are a dime a dozen. Even on an independent budget, they litter the cinematic landscape. So, there needs to be something for one of these efforts to distinguish themselves with. In the case of Robert the Bruce, it’s an attempt to pick up where Braveheart left off. Other films like Outlaw King have tried a similar approach with the character, to varying degrees of success. Here, the result is a bit of a letdown, as the singular focus doesn’t serve the title character well. Now on Digital, it’s an option for those of you who dig these sorts of period pieces, but it’s unlikely to satisfy your craving. The results just aren’t really there for this project.

The movie is a period piece/historical epic, centered on the title character, Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen). Specifically, it covers the time after William Wallace’s victories depicted in Braveheart, making this a sequel of sorts. The year is 1306, where Robert the Bruce has crowned himself King of Scotland. However, England’s powerful armies defeat him again and again, leaving his own military in tatters. Sensing an utter humiliation, Scotland’s noble class abandons him their leader. After one such instance, Robert finds himself alone, wounded, and hunted. The end could well be near for him, as well as the cause of Scottish freedom. Then, hope emerges. While being hidden away in a small village, he’s nursed back to health by a young widow and her orphaned children. The family’s values lights his fire once again, leading to a showdown with his enemies. Richard Gray directs a screenplay Eric Belgau co-wrote with Macfadyen himself. Supporting players here include Patrick Fugit, Jared Harris, Anna Hutchinson, Emma Kenney, Zach McGowan, Kevin McNally, Daniel Portman, Melora Walters and more. John Garrett handles the cinematography, while the music is by Mel Elias.

Angus Macfadyen clearly felt like this was a passion project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really reflect in the overall execution. His performance is solid, but in no way exceptional. The script he co-wrote with Eric Belgau, which is by the numbers, doesn’t find a particularly interesting entry point into the nobleman-turned-outlaw’s life. It’s hard not to wonder exactly what Macfadyen saw in him. Richard Gray’s direction shields some of the budgetary limitations, though this is still clearly an indie. It really would need an awards worthy performance to overcome its mediocrity, and while dedicated, Macfadyen is not up to the task.

Robert the Bruce dances around the potential that a film like this could have possessed. Having some elements of a violent epic, as well as some elements of a more meditative character study, leave it in no man’s land. A focus on one side of the story or the other would have served it well. It’s as if the powers that be looked at Braveheart and Outlaw King, saw the strengths and weaknesses of both, and then tried to thread the needle and make the definitive Robert the Bruce tale. Unfortunately, that’s not what we have here, as it’s instead a muddled mishmash of styles.

Today, audiences who love this period in history may well find something intriguing here with Robert the Bruce, but for yours truly, the movie just left me wanting more. The title character is a fascinating, which goes without saying, considering how there have been a handful of attempts at telling his story on the big screen. This one just fell flat, to me at least. Your mileage may vary. If you’re interested in Robert the Bruce, give this title a shot. Just keep your expectations in check…

Robert the Bruce is available on Digital today.

(Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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