Following on from The Man Without a Face, director and 80s megastar Mel Gibson turned his eye toward a historical epic about a Scottish legend; William Wallace in Braveheart. The film was a huge commercial and critical success earning $210m from a budget of $53m as well as winning the Best Director and Best Film Oscar at the 68th Academy Awards.
After seeing his father and uncle killed when he was a child, a grown up William Wallace (Gibson) returns to his village home in Scotland to find that a new law inacted by King Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) means that brides must be given to English lords on their wedding nights. After seeing his beloved Murron (Catherine McCormack) killed by English soldiers, Wallace and his clan including Hamish (Brenden Gleeson) start a rebellion against English rule. As they win more and more battles they recruit more support from Scottish people, but have to convince the greedy Scottish Lords to unite under a reluctant Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfayden) and fight for their freedom once and for all.
The first thing to note about Mel Gibson as a director is that he never shies away from violence, and Braveheart is no exception. In fact you can imagine him rushing, camera in hand to capture every bloody blow or limb being chopped off. While it doesn’t quite reach the levels that The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto strive for, there is more than enough hacking, smashing and slicing to satisfy even the most blood-thirsty of viewer. Gibson is careful not to glamourise said violence though and it is merely a forceful way of highlighting the effects of fighting battles in the 14th Century. It really feels like every head-hammering or face-smashing blow has a point.
Epic historical films have met with mixed reviews in the past, but more so than most other genres, they tend to produce a higher quality of film technically. The sweeping scores, the extended running time, the period costumes and the occasional dodgy British accents all help to create these sometimes masterpieces (Ben Hur) and sometime snooze-inducing taxation law appendices (Robin Hood). Braveheart sits comfortably in the higher bracket, lead by a rather maverick director and star, it drags the audience through a simplified version of history and provides enough laughs, rousing speeches and brutal battles. Braveheart stands as tall as William Wallace allegedly did, as one of the more memorable and exhilarating examples of historical epic film-making.