Stunning scenery and gory action scenes make up for dodgy accents and a lack of imagination in David Mackenzie's Robert the Bruce epic Outlaw King
David Mackenzie tackles a mammoth tale of resilience in the face of long-standing oppression with his latest film Outlaw King, the story of Scottish hero Robert the Bruce and his fight for his land’s freedom.
In the early 1300s, after submitting to the English crown under duress, men across Scotland unite to reclaim their country under a King of Scots. The English, the cruel tyrants of the south, are depicted here as boorish aggressors with a taste for excess and vulgarity. Robert, by contrast, is a man of the people, admired and heralded as the chosen one to liberate a hopeful Scotland.
Mackenzie delivers an entertaining film but with a lengthy runtime and some choreographed battle scenes that lack originality, Outlaw King follows many of its genre's less appealing conventions. At time it edges close to mundanity, with Mackenzie unable to experiment with style and the story dragging. Despite mostly sticking to the script for historical epics, the film does have a visual pleasure in places. There are some beautiful interior compositions bolstered by elegant costume design and the vast landscapes of the Scottish Highlands never fails to stun. There's some satisfyingly gory moments, too, mixed into relatively rote fight sequences.
It seems baffling that Scottish actors were not cast in the roles of both Robert the Bruce and James Douglas, played here by Chris Pine and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively. Hard as they may try, their faux-Scots accents prove to be highly distracting in parts and their acting seems to suffer because of it. Pine is brooding and serious throughout, with an occasional glint of revolutionary mischief in his eye, but the oratory power needed for a character of such stature is simply not there. Taylor-Johnson is maniacal as Douglas, foaming at the mouth with passionate desperation for Scottish freedom from the English, but again is let down by inconsistencies in speech and performance. There are strong showings from Florence Pugh as Robert’s wife Elizabeth de Burgh and Billy Howle as the Prince of Wales; with their own accents intact, they are both confident and engaging.
There is enjoyment to be found here and, despite how drawn-out the film is, it does maintain an action-oriented narrative. Outlaw King tells a valiant story but lacks a boldness from its lead actors and further ambition in its direction to elevate it to something more.
Outlaw King had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival – this review is based on that initial cut of the film. For more of our TIFF coverage, head to theskinny.co.uk/festivals/international-festivals
Outlaw King is released 9 Nov via Netflix, with screenings in selected cinemas across Scotland.
Follow Caitlin Quinlan on Twitter at @csaquinlan