Why I Love: Braveheart Chris Faers January 13, 2017 Editor's Choice, Features, Why I Love 1699 Anyone remember Dennis Pennis? The anarchic BBC interviewer played to perfection by Paul Kaye who would catch celebrities off guard by asking them stupid questions in an attempt to put them down and get a laugh? During a press junket in Venice to promote Braveheart, Pennis asked Mel Gibson: “In the movie you play a guy with long hair, a sort of Neanderthal barbarian. Being an Australian, you worried that might get you typecast?” Yes, very funny indeed and Gibson took it all in good humour. But sadly Gibson has never been the most tactful of people and has become his own walking punch-line over the last few years due to a variety of controversies that surely don’t need dredging up again. When Pennis mocked him, Gibson was on the top of his game; firmly established in the A-list and on the cusp of Oscar glory with Braveheart, eventually taking home statuettes for Best Director and Best Picture. Like Gibson himself, his film has come under scrutiny in later years with some going as far to say it’s the worst film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. An epic on the grandest scale, it follows the life of William Wallace (Gibson), a 13th-century Scotsman who led his fellow countrymen during the Wars for Scottish Independence against the English. The backlash largely comes down to the validity of the film, with many accusing Gibson of sacrificing accuracy for spectacle, but there is a saying in the film industry: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good movie.” Downfall and Apollo 13 benefit from sticking to the facts, largely due to how dramatic both cases actually were, and in the grand scheme of things they’re both relatively recent events aided by well-documented eras that still had surviving witnesses. Ideally viewers appreciate historical accuracy and although there are documented accounts from Wallace’s time, we are talking about a war that occurred over 700 years ago. Filmmakers were upfront about the script (written by a descendent of William, Randall Wallace) being largely influenced by ‘The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Eldersliea’, a romanticised poem by 15th-century author, Blind Harry. Although the poem largely exaggerates the Wallace story into something much more epic, narrative-wise, it was the best direction to go and any of its bashers need to remember what the major influence was. Granted, just because a film is influenced by a certain piece of existing material doesn’t mean it’s exempt from criticism, but Braveheart is undoubtedly good enough to be judged on its own merits and not the ideologies of historians. Gibson does a great job behind and in front of the camera, creating a sure-handed visceral world full of epic adventure and blood along with quieter moments that allow the film to breathe and prevent it from becoming exhausting. Aided by John Toll’s beautiful cinematography, Gibson manages to balance the grittiness of the world with softer, romanticised elements. The battles are as you’d expect from any Hollywood epic, but they’re up there with the best and still hold up over 20-years later, remaining as realistic as anything you’ll see – even animal rights groups suspected horses must’ve been seriously harmed during production after initially seeing the battle sequences. Initially at least, many only seem to remember Gibson’s louder moments as Wallace as he rides his horse across the battlefield shouting: “Freedom!” Although there are those elements, which do work, Gibson gives Wallace a warmth and intelligence that many others may have avoided, simply playing the man as a brute. He’s just a simple man who wants to live in peace, only for events to transpire and force him into a life of bloodshed and valour. Not to mention, Gibson has a decent handle of the Scottish accent as he thankfully avoids a being a caricature or Christopher Lambert and lands smack-bang in the middle of the spectrum. The supporting cast is a who’s who of British and Irish actors: Brendan Gleeson, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, Brian Cox, Peter Mullan, Ian Bannen and many more do an excellent job of being likeable and/or memorable, sometimes in very small roles, without taking away from what is Wallace’s film. The only major exception is Patrick McGoohan’s irresistible turn as Edward I. Overly dramatic; it works perfectly in a performance befitting a king: full of gusto, bravado and entitlement. It’s simply a joy to watch McGoohan quip-wise then turn on a sixpence and unleash unbridled rage in the same scene. Sophie Marceau is radiant as Princess Isabella of France, showing us great strength and vulnerability as an unhappily married woman caught in the middle of proceedings while Catherine McCormack is absolutely enchanting as Murron, Wallace’s wife – both help add to touch of softness to what at times a brutal film. James Horner’s score verges on perfection: haunting, uplifting, aching, invigorating and tragic. The core value of any score is to enhance the emotion you’re experiencing – you cannot be told how to feel when watching a scene, but a great score can heighten and suggest how you should be feeling. Horner’s score is overtly emotional, but it is orchestrated and played with such subtle beauty that even the lushest of cues seamlessly meld with the film, adding that extra layer of emotion without taking you out of the film; it’s undoubtedly one of his best scores, if not his very best. It’s a good old-fashioned romp on the largest of scales and full of inspiration – even if you happen to be English. Yes, many scenes are overblown and exaggerated from the truth, but Braveheart is about a more than just a man; it’s about a Legend, and as any storyteller worth their salt will tell you, every legend needs a story worthy of their stature. Now, don’t get me wrong, Braveheart is not on the level of Schindler’s List, Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather, but worst Best Picture winner? When you consider the likes of Crash, Driving Miss Daisy, Titanic, Chicago, Out of Africa, A Beautiful Mind and Shakespeare in Love share the same distinction, surely anyone can appreciate the stupidity of such a statement. Apart from learning the Academy gets a lot wrong come awards season, hopefully those who give Gibson and his film a tough time can also learn to give both a second chance.