Student Critic Daniel Mohr reviews
Robert the Bruce
(Richard Gray, USA, 2019)
Known as a great warrior and conqueror, Robert I of Scotland is universally accepted as one of Scotland’s greatest heroes. As such, he has been traditionally depicted in mythical proportions, celebrating his great deeds and legacy. Richard Gray’s Robert the Bruce, however, offers audiences an entirely different perspective, focusing on Robert’s less triumphant period during which the fight for his country’s freedom starts to seem unachievable and his self-belief is broken.
Robert (played by Angus Macfadyen) finds himself doubting the whole cause after a series of defeats and, as he leaves his men and wanders into wilderness, a price on his head inspires a number of rogue soldiers to hunt him down. Gray attempts a character-driven drama rather than a grand historical epic, but the screenplay – co-written by Macfadyen – fails to deliver and provides a disappointingly uncinematic narrative. The plot mostly focuses on a Scottish family that shelters Robert and inspire him to keep up the fight for freedom. The emphasis, however, shifts from the Scottish king to the family members, whose uninteresting and uninspiring personal stories dominate the narrative.
Robert is depicted as a passive and incapable man, whose existential crisis spans the film’s painfully long running time. Occasional sword fights attempt to break up the dullness, but even they come across as cheap and confusing brawls, making the film all the more torturous. The rest of the story is told through overwhelmingly monotonous exposition and almost none of it is actually shown.
As with many period films, Robert the Bruce is by no means an accurate depiction of the events it deals with. Unlike most of them, however, it lacks an inspirational or patriotic message. It brushes over the issues of loyalty, identity and responsibility for one’s actions, instead settling for overused tropes as a way out of such situations.
Had the filmmakers focused on the characters and saved the narrative from its uninteresting bids, Robert the Bruce could have been an intimate and original drama with a fresh approach and an unseen angle of the legendary figure. In its current state, however, it fails as a film and misses its opportunity.