Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Only in the action sequences does Gibson touch base. These are violent, uncompromising and energetically choreographed."

William Wallace was a Scots revolutionary in the 13th century. His monument still stands outside Stirling. Anyone who defied the English is admired north of the Border, even now, although, before Mel Gibson went to Ireland to shoot this film, most people hadn't a clue who Wallace was.

After he became Public Enemy No 1 at the English court and King Edward fumed like a damp chimney at the mention of his name, the Princess of Wales (Sophie Marceau) found herself in a deserted cottage, unchaperoned, for a tryst with The Beast. She was French, married to the king's gay son. Wallace's reputation as a hard man stimulated something inside her.

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Of course, none of this happened. History students are advised to leave their brains at home. Wallace was an educated man in an age of almost universal illiteracy, a leader who inspired the ragged, warring clans of Scotland. Gibson plays him like Detective Riggs, with a heavy metal haircut and face paint. He wears his kilt high on the thigh while riding and shaves every day. It is a star performance.

The film is an hour too long. The director (Gibson) can't keep his finger off the slo-mo button. There is even a shot of horses' hooves, sloshing through mud at quarter speed, and endless sword-throwing slowdowns. The early years - first love, return to ruined croft, childhood sweetheart reunion, courtship and secret marriage - drag on and on. Only in the action sequences does Gibson touch base. These are violent, uncompromising and energetically choreographed.

The politics are confusing. Robert the Bruce appears ineffectual and weak. The Scots nobles are in favour of revolt - or not - depending on English bribes. Wallace, by comparison, is pure as driven sleet, refusing the Scottish crown, although accepting a knighthood for some reason, while mouthing tosh, such as: "They'll take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom."

The Scots army behave like football hooligans, howling: "Wall-ace! Wall-ace! Wall-ace!" and whipping up their tartan skirts to moon the enemy. When battle is joined, they race at each other, screaming incomprehensible obscenities. After one disasterous set-to, during which Wallace is left in the lurch by his feudal allies, he goes on a revenge spree that resembles a slasher flick.

As a piece of fiction, this is no less worthy than A Fistful Of Dollars. "If you die, it will be awful," the unfaithful Princess declares. "Every man dies," Wallace says. "Not every man lives."

Some movies survive longer than they should. Others win awards and enter the vocabulary of Scottish politics.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Hollywood retelling of the story of William Wallace.
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Symon Parsons ***

Director: Mel Gibson

Writer: Randall Wallace

Starring: Mel Gibson, James Robinson, Sean Lawlor, Sandy Nelson, James Cosmo, Sean McGinley, Alan Tall, Andrew Weir, Gerda Stevenson, Ralph Riach, Mhairi Calvey, Tam White, Ian Bannen, Angus Macfadyen

Year: 1995

Runtime: 171 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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