Of Sma’ Fowk, and A’ Fowk: Robert the Bruce

A common criticism of historical fiction, particularly historical cinema, is its focus on the Great Men and Women of history: the kings and queens, princes and princesses, lords and ladies, emperors and empresses. Stories about the common people seemed – rightly or wrongly – to be rarer than sagas about royal dynasties, mighty conquerors, and cruel tyrants. I’ve seen more than a few criticisms of Outlaw King which lament a question they never found the answer to: what were the common people fighting for?

That such a question is even asked shows the importance of cultural representation of this period in Scottish history.

But who are “the people,” the general mass of the country in whose name Robert so earnestly fights? Outlaw King offers rather little proof of their existence: In one early scene, a peasant nods and accepts Robert’s father’s explanation as to why their feudal taxes remain so high (blame the English); a small mob forms after the news of Wallace’s capture and execution (the man made famous by Braveheart appears in the Netflix film only in the form of a severed limb and decapitated head). That aside, the Scottish as a people remain a vague presence throughout Outlaw King, far vaguer than Scotland as a land, its rugged coastlines and dark green moraines and hills shot in lavish and loving 4K HD. They can remain vague because Outlaw King, like so many other historical epics, takes for granted the idea that today’s nations were self-evident since time immemorial.
– “Epic Fails: Outlaw King and Netflix’s Nationalist Problem,” Kanishk Thanoor

How many films & tv shows have there been that feature King John? Richard the Lionheart? Queen Elizabeth? Alfred the Great? Richards I, II, III? Henrys I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, & VIII? National leaders & heroes are a popular source for films, especially in their native nations – Frederick the Great, Cleopatra, Gandhi, Bolivar, Louis XIII of France, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, Philip II of Spain, Washington, Pocahontas, all have a plurality of films: sprawling biopics, historical epics, even bit-parts in swashbucklers and comedies. Robert the Bruce – unquestionably one of the most important figures in Scottish history – on the other hand, is notable by his absence for most of the 20th Century.

This (admittedly pretty awesome) animated sequence in Disney’s 1948 film So Dear To My Heart was the only cinematic appearance of Robert the Bruce until Braveheart came along… 47 years later.

You can literally count the number of live-action appearances of Robert the Bruce in film on one hand. In fact, Robert’s first major role in a feature film was in 1995’s Braveheart. Mary, Queen of Scots first appeared almost exactly one hundred years earlier, in Thomas Edison’s The Execution of Mary Stuart (sic), which preceded several silent and talking films; Macbeth wasn’t much later, appearing in 1905’s Duel Scene from Macbeth, before returning in several silent adaptations all across the world before Orson Welles’ famous 1948 epic & many more since; Charles Stuart crossed over the sea to celluloid, first silently in 1923 and then vocally in 1948. That it took until 1995 for both Wallace and Bruce to appear on screen despite the huge popularity of books like Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs and G. A. Henty’s In Freedom’s Cause is perplexing to say the least.

By all rights, we should be sick of Robert the Bruce films by now. We should respond to any new film about the Wars of Independence with a resigned exhale of “God, another one?” while arguing over which of the many interpretations was our favourite, the way we do with Macbeth films – even King Arthur and Robin Hood films, and Robert’s historicity is much more grounded. We should have a plurality of Bruce films – the bold expressionist ’30s black-and-white epic, the bombastic ’40s war movie, the grandiose ’50s hagiography, the colourful ’60s adventure, the subversive 1970s deconstruction, the nuanced ’80s biopic, the oscar-sweeping ’90s saga. Instead all we got for 95 years of the 20th century was a 2-minute scene in a largely forgotten Disney movie. Robert the Bruce has not yet received his Passion of Joan of Arc, his Alexander Nevsky, his Lawrence of Arabia, his Patton: he hasn’t even had his Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Regardless of failures in the past, the releases of 2018’s Outlaw King and 2019’s Robert the Bruce could do much to rectify this – for in the intervening period, a great deal of mythologising has taken place.

For instance, the notion that the Scottish Wars of Independence were “really” just a fight between feuding Norman aristocrats (who weren’t really Scottish at all) that didn’t really benefit the average Scot is deeply rooted and eagerly repeated, with even supporters of Scottish independence quick to argue that perspective. The narrative is Scotland, like so many Medieval European nations, was a land where the downtrodden proletariat peasants were pressed into wars they had zero interest in by the international bourgeois nobility of their own nation who were practically foreign to the common folk. It has more than a hint of “truthiness” – after all, Monty Python did a bit on it, and we know there are some places where this happened, so it’s bound to apply in Scotland, right? Nationalism as we understand it wasn’t invented yet, so there’s no way the ordinary folk of Scotland had any sense of collective identity, correct? Yet historians like G.W.S. Barrow, Patrick Fraser Tytler, D.J. Birmingham, & Chris Brown don’t necessarily support such “truthy” interpretations – even Colin Kidd, not a particular supporter of the independence movement, noted Scotland held a sense of “collective identity” in the time period:

Gaeldom had once enjoyed a privileged role in Scottish political culture. An identity firmly associated with the dark-age Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada consolidated together as Scots between the tenth and thirteenth centuries peoples of Pictish, British, Saxon, Norman, Breton, and Flemish descent, as well as the Dalriadic Scots themselves. Moreover, a thirteenth-century Celtic antiquarian revival is now believed to have contributed significantly to the strong sense of collective identity which enabled an ethnically-diverse Scottish political nation in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries to preserve an independent kingdom of Scotland in the face of Plantagenet imperialist ambitions. From the fourteenth to the eighteenth century Scottish political identity was essentially Gaelic…
Gaelic Antiquity and National Identity in Enlightenment Ireland and Scotland, Colin Kidd

Unlike, say, the War of the Roses – or, indeed, a great many clan feuds – the Scottish Wars of Independence are noted for the enthusiastic support of “the Sma’ Fowk.” There were peasant uprisings across Scotland even beyond those led by seasoned noble warriors like Wallace and Moray. While the wealth gap between high and low was considerable, Scottish peasants were not Russian serfs either, and it isn’t better history to transpose evils from elsewhere in the time period to all nations & places – Scottish peasants were not tied to the land as they were in other Manorial European nations like England. Yes, the lot of the average Scot in the High Middle Ages didn’t feature the rights hard-won in the past hundred years, and yes, Wallace’s army of the people was not comparable to a socialist revolution – but at the same time, neither was their life the cynical Python-inspired caricature of a “feud among Norman aristocrats” that seems fashionable nowadays.

The great Scottish historian G.W.S. Barrow noted the great risk that the Bruce &  anyone who supported him undertook:

I would stress at the outset

(1) that a Scot who came out for Bruce in 1306 was deliberately forsaking something the Scots had been fighting for since 1296 – a legitimate, constitutional kingship lawfully adjudged to John Balliol – and was, moreover, supporting a man who had slain, in church and at peace, one of the greatest of his fellow nobles, who had himself played a leading part in the Scots’ struggle for freedom for some six years;

(2) that Scots who took this drastic step were likely to be either closely attached to Bruce personally, e.g. his own kinsmen and members of his meinie or ‘following’, or else so devoted to the ideal of an independent Scotland that they were prepared to pay the heavy price of overthrowing strict legality (or both); and

(3) that in assigning any member of the group of Bruce supporters to a particular region of Scotland on the evidence of lands forfeited we must be on our guard against bias, neither drawing to one region men whose links may have been as much with another, nor omitting men merely because their individual names are not recorded.

Scotland and Its Neighbours in the Middle Ages, G.W.S. Barrow

Much is written about how John Barbour’s work must be taken with a pinch of salt in regards to intra-Scottish medieval politics, but the fact remains that he described the “followers” taking up whatever implements they could find & charged the field at Bannockburn – hardly the actions of disinterested peasants who didn’t much care which noble ruled over them as long as they were treated decently enough:

Now all this time of which I tell,
At which the victory was well
Contested, and on either side
English and Scots in prowess vied,
The Scottish followers, left behind
The victuals and the carts to mind,
Peasants and boys, when they knew well
That their good lords fought hard in fell
Encounter with their country’s foes,
A stout man of their number chose
To lead them to the battle fray,
And, feigning banners to display,
They waved on spear-shafts to the wind
The largest sheets that they could find,
Declaring they would join the fight
And help according to their might.
When thereto all had given assent.
In a great crowd they onward went,
Some fifteen thousand men arrayed
With banners o’er their heads displayed.
Advancing boldly to the fight
As if they had been men of might.

– “The Bruce of Bannockburn: being a translation of the greater portion of Barbour’s Bruce,” Michael McMillan

Walter Bower recalls Wallace’s famous anecdote of a priest – the clergy in Scotland being among the most fervent & dedicated supporters of independence despite also being part of One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church:

My son I tell you truly
Freedom is best of all.
Never let a servile yoke
Hold your life in thrall.
– Walter Bower, Scotichronicon

Everyone should visit the Battle of Bannockburn Experience at least once.

John of Fordun noted that it was not just the men, but their wives and families, as well as unmarried women, who joined Robert following the disaster of Methven:

Then, all the wives of those who had followed the king were ordered to be outlawed by the voice of a herald, so that they might follow their husbands; by reason whereof, many women, both single and married, lurked with their people in the woods, and cleaved to the king, abiding with him, under shelter.
– F.J.H. Skene & W.F. Skene, John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation (Chronica Gentis Scotorum)

And G.W.S. Barrow’s opening chapter for Scotland and its Neighbours in the Middle Ages, poetically titled “The Idea of Freedom,” has a multitude of examples showing that while many people in Scotland at the time were not free as individuals, they fervently believed in the idea that their country should be free.

So we know that the Sma’ Fowk fought – but why?

The spider’s web must be spun;
The king’s delight must be undone;
The lost soul’s journey must be won;
The song of justice must be sung…

Robert the Bruce is not Braveheart. Nor, indeed, is it Outlaw King. With a very modest budget and much smaller cast & crew than those multi-million epics, Robert the Bruce does not depict any sprawling battles or grand castles or pompous pageantry: such things are hinted at, but never seen in any great detail. The little luxury we see in the film is sparing: a glimpse of Elizabeth de Burgh in her finery; the gleam of the King’s gilt sword; the dull sheen of Robert’s coronet. The largest host of people we ever see is the hundred or two inhabitants of a small fort – far from the mass of humanity seen at Stirling Sans Bridge or Loudoun Hill. CGI is restricted to one or two matt paintings.

It is in its differences compared to the other two Bruce films that Robert the Bruce is most interesting to me. Braveheart & King drew most of their narratives from historical events, with each chapter & scene corresponding roughly to what is known from chronicles: Robert the Bruce takes the interesting tack in focusing on two “known unknowns” – the death of the Red Comyn at Greyfriar’s and the Bruce’s subsequent flight into parts unknown in the winter of 1306 – & extrapolating its narrative by filling in the gaps with legend and folk tales, the legend of the Spider making an appearance once again.

The film itself utilises oral storytelling: its interpretation of the Greyfriar’s episode is not presented as part of the main narrative, but as a story told by Morag (Anna Hutchison) to her children. Thus, while the action scenes shows a heroic Bruce as completely justified in slaying the dastardly Comyn of this tale, it also acknowledges that there are other, less clear-cut interpretations when the youngest son Scot (Gabriel Bateman) questions the veracity of his mammy’s stories. Much like Outlaw King and The Bruce before it, Comyn is portrayed as a baddie – something I’m sure the Comyns would hotly contest – but at least here, it isn’t clear that what we see is what happened, either in history, or this film.

Given the film’s budget, it’s perhaps inevitable that the film take a much smaller scale – but in shrinking down the scope, one could easily have simply filled the cast with historical worthies in addition to Robert himself. Yet while the Red Comyn (Jared Harris), the Black Douglas (Diarmaid Murtagh), Aonghus Óg (Daniel Portman), and Elizabeth de Burgh (Mhairi Calvey) all appear, the total sum of their screen time is probably about five to ten minutes. An argument could even be made that Robert himself isn’t the main character in this film, but Morag, a farmer living with her family in a small dwelling away from a village somewhere on the west side of Scotland. It is her story, and her relationship with Scot, Carney (Brandon Lessard), Iver (Talitha Eliana Bateman), and her brother-in-law Brandubh (Zach McGowan) which form the dramatic core of the film. Indeed, it might come as a shock to those who view the Wars of Independence as an excuse for “celebrating the murder of hundreds of thousands of English people” to learn that not a single English person appears in this film. There are no evil English soldiers menacing poor Scottish peasants, no sinister English lords dragging Scottish women off, no nasty English tribunes proclaiming Edward’s sovereignty over the land: this is a film about the people of Scotland, not England. Not everything has to be about England.

Some may be irked that the film centres around fictional characters at the expense of known historical figures, but it’s a conscious decision to rectify one of the great sorrows of history – that while the records of great men & women are protected, the stories of the “Sma’ Fowk” are not so treasured. What remains of farmers like Morag and her family survives only in oral traditions, which are historically dismissed or derided as fanciful yarns with little factual basis. Yet with the absense of the sort of records that would satisfy historians, those traditions are all we have left – and they form our cultural heritage as surely as documents like the Declaration of Arbroath or the Scotichronicon. Robert the Bruce thus doesn’t try to do a big story on a small budget, but a small (and nonetheless important) stitch in a great tapestry. After all, if we restrict our historical fiction to what is definitely known, then who will tell the stories of those who lived and loved their lives, but whose history is not recorded? In focusing on the Sma’ Fowk, Robert the Bruce touches on several issues that might not necessarily appear in a film focusing on the nobility and warrior classes: the relationship between the unfree and the land; the existential dread of losing children in an age of high mortality; how distance and isolation can nevertheless be overcome by forces of community and identity.

The film doesn’t hold your hand: there’s very little exposition, no redundant introductions to characters, no “as you know” silliness. Large stretches of the film have no dialogue at all, but focus on visuals: sweeping shots of the countryside, lingering focus on a blacksmith’s tools, the light dappling against the snow, the parting of hair with a comb. I can understand the decision for this direction – which is just as well, as I’m one of those arty nerds who watches Tarkovsky & Bergman films for fun. One thing I wish there was more of the “witch” played by Melora Walters: the film skirts close to the supernatural a couple of times, with prophecies & precognitive dreams figuring at certain points in the plot. This by no means indicates the film has become historical fantasy – superstition was part of a Scots’ daily life even into modern times, so ultimately, how folk deal with such visions and portents is more important than their actuality.

The fact that only a few actors were Scots, and that much of the film was not filmed in Scotland, is a consequence of the film’s budget and scale. It seems the height of churlishness to criticise a film for not using Scotland’s resources, when Scotland itself just recently lost a multi-million investment thanks to consequences of the EU Referendum being visited on the UK Government. If Tolkien’s beloved Britain can’t secure a Lord of the Rings TV series, then what do you expect when a small film tries to make a film about Scottish history in Scotland? Similarly, I don’t have much time for the Accent Polis (honestly, is there an accent on earth more scrutinised?), so I was perfectly fine with the largely non-Scots cast’s work. I’d rather hear an attempt at a Scottish accent than no Scottish accent at all. (I’m looking at you Thirty-Nine Steps, X-Men First Class, The Boys, & nearly every film with Mary Queen of Scots)

Unfortunately, my own local cinema in Greenock did not show the film for the first week – given it only has four screens and big studio contracts demand that their films be shown so many times a day or not at all, it is regrettable that the Waterfront couldn’t find space in the schedule for the first week. (I was, however, happy to be told that it will be shown starting tomorrow at 17:15, so I encourage everyone in the Inverclyde area to support your local independent cinema.) Of course, that doesn’t apply to a massive chain like Cineworld, who at first declined to screen Robert the Bruce for “very good reasons” – reasons which were only actually revealed after a bit of protest. Given similarly massive chains ODEON & Showcase were showing the film despite Cineworld’s Very Good Reasons, they didn’t seem particularly convincing to me.

Whether it was Cineworld simply thinking a small-budget independent film like Robert the Bruce wouldn’t be cost effective on a UK-wide basis, or part of some Establishment leaning on the chain as happened with Outlander and David Cameron, the end result was the same – many communities in Scotland would have to travel further than their local cinema to see a film about one of the most important figures in their own history. Wee Ginger Dug has the right of it:

What happened is that the interests of a Scottish audience were not taken into account, because as a UK-wide company there is no head office in Scotland with control over the company’s Scottish activities. At best there’s a branch regional office. What has happened with Cineworld is very similar to Tesco’s decision to plaster union flags all over their produce. That’s a decision which is non-political in England, where it plays well, but which in Scotland is deeply political and which antagonises as many if not more than it attracts. The sensibilities and concerns of the Scottish consumer are drowned out in a company which operates on a UK-wide basis.

With independence, Scotland would cease to be a mere region of a UK wide company. Then a company would need to have a Scottish head office because Scotland would be an independent country with distinct laws, tax regimes, and regulatory authorities. Scotland could no longer be treated as an adjunct to the company’s north of England operations. The Scottish head office would be in charge of the company’s operations within the territory of an independent Scottish state and would therefore be in a position to make decisions which will make the company’s products or services appeal to the distinct interests, culture, concerns, and sensibilities of the Scottish consumer.

That would mean that a cinema chain would be able to make a commercial decision about what movies to screen based on its assessment of what might appeal to Scottish movie goers, and not those which appeal to a generalised UK average cinema goer. It would immensely strengthen the Scottish film industry as it would assist Scottish made and produced movies to find their audience. A Scottish audience would like to have the chance to watch Scottish movies, but a UK company making commercial decisions on a UK-wide basis has no real commercial interest in giving them that chance.

There’s also a more personal reason.

Their patriotism is of the sickly sentimental kind, reaching no further than singing a Scotch song, playing at golf, and wearing the tartan; but they never lift their little finger to stop the plundering of Scotland or the ruin of our national monuments. It is not to these snobs but to the people – the common people of Scotland – we must look for redress. History in this will but repeat itself. The nobles of Scotland deserted their country over and over again; the common people supported Wallace to free his country from English tyranny and the same people maintained their religious independence in the Covenant.
– Charles Waddie, letter to Ayrshire Post, 1896

I met Mr MacFadyen at MCM Glasgow 2018, where he presented a panel and previews of Robert the Bruce. I’ve attended comic, film, and media conventions for much of my life, from Star Trek conventions to comic-cons, here in Scotland and in far-flung places like the United States. They are quite often aggressively corporate – geek is good these days – so I salve my conscience by seeking out the small-press writers, artists, and filmmakers’ tables. It’s a savage and merciless cruelty to know characters, stories, and worlds you love are used as tools against your best interests. But MCM Glasgow 2018 gave me a particularly rude awakening.

Throughout it all, you can keenly sense the labour of love MacFadyen undertook bringing this film to life, the frustrations of obstacles placed in its way, and the quiet shared belief in how much our history matters to us all. He made no effort to hide his disgust at the landowners who refused to consider filming the story of Scotland’s warrior king in his own country’s borders, the film & television gatekeepers who insisted that there was no interest in such old tales, the people who claim to be historians who seem to make it their business to ignore or outright suppress history. At one point during his panel, a fan rushed up onto the stage and handed Mr MacFadyen a totem – a Yes car sticker. The host, a genial gentleman from Sheffield, was puzzled, seemingly unfamiliar with what a white Yes on a blue circle represented. “What does it mean?” Mr MacFadyen smiled, and paused a moment, before replying: “In Scotland, everyone knows what it means.”

There was an audience, sure enough: probably comparable to any of the other guests. Certainly all the seats were filled. But part of me absolutely ached to see the throngs of people – fellow Scots – crowding around some Doctor, or the fictional lord of a fictional nation in a fictional world, or the voice of some animated hero or villain, yet a piece of our own history didn’t absolutely dominate the event. How could we be so blase about our own history?

It wasn’t for lack of knowledge or information – the Big Screen hosted a “Twisted Toons” panel, where voice actors read the script of a beloved film as cartoon characters or celebrities – Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,. As they were in Scotland, of course they went with Braveheart – with Angus MacFadyen himself along for the ride. The event was standing room only – completely packed. And it was hilarious, as anything with Jess Harnell would be. I just felt a weird twinge – this should be bigger than it is. I remember the enthusiasm around Braveheart as a wee guy despite the cringers: perhaps I was hoping for too much at a comic convention. I guess I’m starting to understand the “90 Minute Patriot” criticism in my old age.

Following my viewing of Robert the Bruce, I wondered: did I enjoy it because it was a good film, or did I enjoy it for what it represented? Or both? Or neither? Cinema is subjective. Anyone who claims you can provide a dispassionate analysis of a film is probably the sort of person who docks points on Citizen Kane for the anachronistic appearance of pterosaurs. I’ve long since given up pretending I can give a fair, unbiased report on any film, be it a Hitchcock masterpiece or the latest Transformers mess. Perhaps it was the cinematography, or the dreamlike measure of pacing, or just the lovely folk score. All I know is that there is some part of me that felt the film is as important for what it means as to what it does.

Alan Simpson wrote a really daft article about all this:

But I wonder if there would have been the same outrage if the film had been about any other notable Scots, for example, Alexander Fleming.

Fleming’s invention of penicillin is arguably the greatest feat by a Scot in a long line of world-changing Scottish achievements. It has saved millions of lives across the world and continues to do so today.

However, unlike Robert the Bruce, Fleming was a mild mannered chemist in a lab coat who discovered penicillin in a mouldy old dish. Not great cinema admittedly, but worthy of a biopic surely.

However, in reality, many Scots will not even have heard about Alexander Fleming and his role in saving countless lives from a chance encounter in the lab. Whereas virtually every Scot has heard the stirring tales of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, more modern heroes such as Alexander Graham-Bell (sic), John Logie-Baird (sic) and Fleming are largely ignored and are not even deemed worthy of having a film made about them that Cineworld could subsequently decide not to show.

We all know the reason for that. These were brilliant men, who along with countless others of both sixes, changed the world.
But in the eyes of some of their fellow Scots, they are not worthy of serious acclaim because unlike Bruce and Wallace, they didn’t defeat the English. And that is just wrong.

I genuinely have no idea how Mr Simpson could come to such a conclusion. Let’s not even dignify the last paragraph with a response, & stick with the first. I can’t think of a single fellow indy supporter that wouldn’t be either disappointed, or incandescent with rage, if a film about one of Scotland’s finest was deemed unworthy of release in the way Robert the Bruce was by Cineworld, however innocent their decision may have been. I certainly question the notion that any Scot who knows of Wallace and Bruce – which doesn’t seem to be as many as Mr Simpson believes – doesn’t also know the scientific contributors Scotland gifted the world.

But Mr Simpson also misses the bigger issue: the difference between Robert the Bruce and those great scientists is that Robert the Bruce is critical to Scotland’s very existence as a nation. He is a culture hero – and I use hero in the original Greek sense, not the comic-book modern definition – who occupies a very specific role in national history. As important and influential as they were, Scotland would continue to exist if Fleming, Graham Bell, and Logie Baird (why does Simpson hyphenate the last names? Or is that a sub-editor’s fault?) Could the same be said without Robert the Bruce? History is not a zero-sum game – and, indeed, the success of Robert the Bruce, or any Scottish film, can only be good for other Scottish heroes. When cinematic adaptations of arguably Scotland’s most important king can be counted on a single hand, what chance do our other heroes have?

There are many Scottish stories waiting to be told in cinematic form. Even the story of Robert himself is largely untold, with only a few years of his tumultuous life making it to the screen: how long must we wait for other Scottish worthies? Other Scots had a lot of help: Macbeth had a play by the most famous English playwright in history; Mary had a famous English cousin & a son who became first king of Scotland and England; Robert Burns happened to compose a song every nation on earth sings once a year. If we support the films which do take our history, then chances are, we’ll be taking steps closer to bringing more of that history to the silver screen. That would be the ultimate triumph of the Sma’ Fowk.

Much dawted by the gods is he,
Wha to the Indian plain
Successfu’ ploughs the wally sea.
And safe returns again.
With riches, that hitches
Him high aboon the rest
Of sma’ fowk, and a’ fowk
That are wi’ poortith prest.

For me, I can be well content
To eat my bannock on the bent.
And kitchen ‘t wi’ fresh air;
Of lang-kail I can make a feast,
And cantily haud up my crest.
And laugh at dishes rare.

Nought frae Apollo I demand,
But through a lengthen’d life,
My outer fabric firm may stand,
And saul clear without strife.

May he then, but gie then,
Those blessings for my skair;
I’ll fairly, and squarely,
Quit a’, and seek nae mair.
– “The Poet’s Wish: An Ode,” Allan Ramsay

5 thoughts on “Of Sma’ Fowk, and A’ Fowk: Robert the Bruce

  1. Morag says:

    I’m glad you thought there was some merit in it. I was bored senseless. Even given the small budget, even given the pretty weak idea of “Bruce, the wilderness years” (or rather couple of months), there was so much that could have been done but wasn’t.

    • alharron says:

      I do have to say that if I were to adapt “Bruce: The Wilderness Years” it would be very different from this film’s interpretation. And there is something really weak about an argument that boils down to “at least we’re *getting* a film.” But that’s films for you: there’s plenty of beloved films I can’t stand, and plenty of panned films I really enjoy. It’s the nature of the beast – and it shows that the story of Bruce is one that can be told and re-told, and no one adaptation need be alike.

      I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but I do think that its very existence increases the possibility of more Scottish history being introduced to a wider audience. After all, this film owes a lot to Outlaw King, which itself owes a lot to Braveheart. Here’s hoping.

  2. Geraldine Harron says:

    The film really turns the volume up and down and is a dream film to me. I could recognise so many people today in the people in the film. Our family grew up with storytelling and this entire film demands your imaginative presence in it. That’s what I did naturally, some people may have to try a little harder to really find their roots. By the way how much do I love William Shatner? He’s proud of you son.

  3. Hugh Wallace says:

    I’ve not seen the film but I thoroughly appreciated that piece of writing, Al.

  4. Ian Smith says:

    Apologies for going slightly off-topic, but this piece made me think of the 1996 movie ‘The Bruce’ directed by Bob Carruthers and David McWhinnie and starring Sandy Welch, Oliver Reed and Brian Blessed. (I believe Dee Hepburn from ‘Gregory’s Girl’ is in the cast too.) I haven’t seen it and know of it only because part of it was filmed around Neidpath Castle at my home town of Peebles. After the film’s release, local folk were given a chance to see it with a screening at Peebles’ Burgh Hall. Townspeople I know who attended the screening were polite about ‘The Bruce’ in public (perhaps not wanting to offend the filmmakers and hoping the town and its environs would be used for more filming in future), but privately admitted that they thought it was terrible.

    One thing that ‘The Bruce’ did for Peebles, though, was that it introduced Oliver Reed to the town. Inevitably, during filming, Reed managed to sniff out the public bar of the Crown Hotel on Peebles High Street and spent several days drinking in it, much to the joy of the Scottish tabloid press. He must have enjoyed the experience, as he returned to Peebles and the Crown a couple of years later and celebrated his 60th birthday there.

    Incidentally, during the original festivities, Reed became fed up with the hardness of the Crown’s seats and insisted on buying an armchair that he could comfortably sit in. The armchair is still in the pub and has now attained a sort of ‘holy relic’ status in Peebles. I once wrote about the thing on my blog, here: http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=3804

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