Movie Monday: The Bruce (1996)

It’s still Monday in America.


OK, so, with the vexed question of Scottish independence in the air, let’s take a look at a piece of well-intentioned but tedious patriotism, 1996’s The Bruce. The alert among you may have noticed that Braveheart came out in 1995, and there’s little doubt that the makers of this film were hoping to cash in on the sudden popularity of Scottish stories.

As for the result, well … see for yourself. I can’t embed the file, but you can watch the film here.

So, our story begins with a bunch of Scottish knights on crusade. They appear to have gone far off course, because they are in Egypt, of all places. pyramidbollocks

They are, of course, about to do battle with the heathen, inspired by Sir James Douglas chucking the preserved heart of Robert Bruce at them, and all get killed. In reality, this happened in Spain, not Egypt, so I’m not sure what that’s about. The fight scene is tepid and incompetent.

And then: credits and a shitty synth score ripped off from Gettysburg. We are back to the bens and glens and what have you of medieval Scotland, where John Comyn and Robert Bruce, rival claimants to the throne, are agreeing to put aside their difference and fight the damned English for bonnie Scotland. We appear to have skipped the pro-English phase of Bruce’s career, which was perhaps seen as insufficiently patriotic. Edward I (Brian Blessed!) is all glowery as he hears that, despite what Comyn has promised Bruce, he’s going to sell him out to the English and take the throne for himself.


Bruce and his guys get together with Comyn and his guys. Bruce’s love interest is, for some inexplicable reason, weaving the Bayeux Tapestry.


Bruce’s younger brother Nigel (or Niall or Neill but Nigel here) is all chivalrous and idealistic, and you know he’s going to get killed. Comyn and Bruce squabble in front of Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow (Oliver Reed!). Comyn betrays the Bruceses, and Nigel is killed when some soldiers mistake him for Robert. During the fighting, Brian Blessed is going apeshit.


It is fantastic. Bruce finds out that Nigel has been killed and does a full-on WHYYYYYYYY:


He swears revenge on Comyn, who is being portrayed as the blackest scoundrel ever, presumably because what Bruce does next — stab him to death in a church — would seem a bit harsh otherwise.

Anyway, with Comyn out of the picture Bruce is the only viable claimant to the Scottish throne. He also owns the Lewis chessmen for some reason.

Which are doing their impression of the opening credits of I, Claudius.
Which are doing their impression of the opening credits of I, Claudius.

Robert gets crowned, but he is excommunicated for, you know, stabbing a fool up in church. Wishart refuses to carry out the excommunication. The crown looks like a cake tin with drawer pulls on it. Edward is displeased, since he thought Bruce was dead. He shouts at his minions and goes Brian Blessed Crazy. It’s glorious. Edward the future II, Comyn’s old sidekick Aubrey and Henry de Bohun bicker and plot for roughly a million years. De Bohun goes after Bruce in a stealth attack. Meanwhile, Bruce and Wishart are unsuspecting.

Oliver Reed is not aware he's on film here.
Oliver Reed is not aware he’s on film here.

De Bohun kidnaps Bruce’s wife and kids, but he and his d00ds stage some daring guerrilla raids. I mean, the usual, pretty much. Meanwhile, Edward I lies a-dying.

Blah blah on the run from the English, blah blah the spider story. Bruce looks at the little spider spinning its web, is inspired by its persistence, you know how it goes.


A big battle impends, and Bruce makes a speech about (what else) FREEEEDOOOOM. The soldiers look appropriately grubby and battered but without being all covered in filth:


The battle of (I guess?) Bannockburn happens, and the Scots win. It’s the old model: English cavalry charge comes a cropper against Scottish pikes, which is probably not actually what happened at Bannockburn, I think we now believe. The battle looks as shoddy and half-assed as the first one. And there is a bunch of smoke wafting around the field from … somewhere … . Oliver Reed runs around headbutting people and flailing with an axe, which is less great than it sounds but still pretty great. But when he stops to spare a young innocent, Henry de Bohun kills him, and is killed in turn by Robert. The Scots are elated, the end.

As with every movie I review, the story of the film is compressed as hell. You’d never know that eight years passed between Robert being crowned and the battle of Bannockburn, with all kinds of battles and campaigns and intrigues in between.

They have a few scenes in which they point out that Bruce is kind of a dirtbag, but generally he’s protrayed as a patriot, or at the very least a dirtbag who becomes a patriot. No surprise they don’t mention his more complex political history, since they make it very clear that Scots who ally with England are a bunch of quisling traitors.

Historically, it’s better than Braveheart, I guess, but film-wise it’s a snooze. The bits with Brian Blessed are great, because he knows this movie is a total smeller and just goes nuts. Oliver Reed is OK. Everything else is not up to much. The pyramid thing is inexplicable.



Movie Monday: The Bruce (1996)