The titular character has little to do in this new account, spearheaded by and starring Angus MacFadyen 24 years after his same portrayal in Braveheart. Set after he loses his wife, child, and army, the king winds up wounded and abandoned. His past victories are only remembered by a rural family who have lost many members fighting for Robert’s claim, and therefore have complicated feelings about his and Scotland’s sovereignty.
This is a promising setup, and it is refreshing to see a period drama whose most active players are not nobles. Unfortunately, it is hampered by extremely broad characterisations and a leaden script, which is largely delivered by static exposition. Robert is rarely anything but stoically noble, coming alive only in combat. The family – led by a stereotypically wistful, and youthful, war widow – are saddled with especially thankless roles, leading to a complete lack of emotional involvement.
This is most egregiously demonstrated in the characterisation of Scott, the adolescent son who the film painfully wants viewers to like. This is not the fault of Gabriel Bateman, who is a lively screen presence. He is simply written to do little except provoke his guardians, complain about his poor battle skills, and be rescued by his marksman cousin – a woman who gets no thanks for her cool head and keen eye. His character is developed from annoying, to annoying but now holding a sword; the end is not a hero’s journey but an inevitable running out of luck.
It is hard not to immediately draw comparisons to Outlaw King due to the films’ proximities. This is not fair – both works have very different structures and focuses. However, when the former is markedly stronger in terms of scripting, acting (despite the lack of native accents), and entertainment quality, it does Robert the Bruce no favours.
CAST: Angus Macfadyen, Jared Harris, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Patrick Fugit
DIRECTOR: Richard Gray
WRITERS: Angus Macfadyen
SYNOPSIS: Wounded and alone, the future King of Scotland finds refuge with a family decimated by the wars with the English.