Braveheart is one of those films that stays deeply etched in the memory of moviegoers. The 90s churned out some fantastic cinema when technology upped its game and seamlessly married stunt choreography with dramatic storytelling. Mel Gibson directed a rare gem. His movie became one of those films that one had to watch and re-watch.
Before the digital revolution, when people still spent Friday evenings scouring rental DVD stores for blockbuster hits to watch over the weekend, Braveheart was a film you would intentionally find on the shelves and reach for. And if, years later, you happened to come across a rerun on TV, you’d stop your insistent channel flipping and glue your eyes on Mel Gibson charming the beautiful French Princess Sophie Marceau. That is before he slayed evil rapist English soldiers. I was, and forever will be, entranced by the heroic tale of William Wallace. That is movie magic. True, utterly beautiful, romantic fog-in-the-forest movie magic.
But let’s take a good look at the screenplay written by a gentleman of the same last name, Mr. Randall Wallace. We can unmistakably call him a master of his craft. Only the best writers dare to tackle films of such epic proportions. Two pages in, and it is very clear that Wallace, the screenwriter, is not only well versed in prose, but also really knows his historical lingo. Dialogue seems old English enough to pass for the period, but really is dumbed enough down for the modern viewer to understand. You always have to keep that in mind when writing for a wide audience. You’re trying to attract the masses, not the well-read history buffs.
Here’s something I did not expect: For the first time, I felt the screenplay to scream macho. I’ve known the film since my childhood, but now that I have the mind of an adult, and a very liberal feminist one at that, I’m noticing a few things that make me chuckle and maybe even cringe. William Wallace gets not one but two girls: the prettiest peasant one in his native Scottish village AND the French princess with the sexy accent, who is the consort of the emotionally weak heir to the English throne (I’m not a fan that he is depicted as a gay pushover as though that’s a shorthand for weak and anti-masculine).
William Wallace is who we are told to admire. A man who fights out of agony from the loss of the love of his life, but also for the freedom of his fellow countrymen. His foes, the armies of King Edward, are aplenty, but he outsmarts them more than once. He is able to mobilize thousands of peasants and nobles alike who even chant his name in choirs of masculine conviction. And he pulls all of that off in a kilt and with long, matted hair.
He is so clearly the superhero that it’s almost painful to my sensibilities today.
I can’t deny, however, that it’s a superbly-written piece of cinema literature. Braveheart features a robust structure, distinct characters, a lot of heart and soul, and a keen sense for history translated to modern standards. Critics rightfully point out inaccuracies to William Wallace’s legend, but despite my reservations, I must admit that it’s well deserving of its Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.
Also published on Medium.