Braveheart (1995)


His passion captivated a woman. His courage inspired a nation. His heart defied a king.

After his father and brother are murdered by the English, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) vows to live a quiet life, farming his land and loving the girl who once comforted him at his family's funeral.

That plan is forever changed when King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) gives members of the British nobility ownership rights to land in Scotland, land that is still owned and tilled by the Scots. As an additional boon, Longshanks grants the English lords the right to take any Scottish lass's maidenhead on the night of her wedding.

Wallace's reticence to join the fight against the English changes when his recently handfasted bride is murdered. The Scots begin planning a rebellion against the British crown, and Wallace steps forward to lead the insurgence. He does so to save his country, but also to save his soul.

With the halfhearted aid of the Scottish nobles, including a young and brash Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFadyen), Wallace leads an army of peasants to take on the massive English army in a series of battles meant to gain the Scots true independence and freedom from tyranny.

Wallace is a hero who inspires men to fight and women to love. Though he is honorable down to the very bone, Wallace cares little for what mythology he weaves amongst the Scottish rebels. Wallace only fights for Murron (Catherine McCormack), his soulmate and ghost, who was killed before he had the chance to save her.

Murron is not the only one to haunt Wallace's dreams, but once she dies, Wallace puts all of his energy into avenging her. He is unstoppable in this quest; anyone who dares to get in his way is cut down with a ruthless efficiency. Even the introduction of a beautiful princess only distracts him temporarily. In the end his heart belongs to Murron and cannot be held by another.

King Edward the Longshanks is cruelty personified. He offers no one, not even his own son, any sort of mercy. He uses fear as his chief method of rule, and he will stop at nothing to quell the rebellion led by Wallace. Played to perfection by McGoohan, Edward is a worthy foe to Gibson's Wallace. These two are evenly matched, intellectually, which makes each plot-twist resemble a move on a chessboard.

As with all epic films, Braveheart allows the supporting cast to weave a stunning tapestry of this story of love and war. Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) could easily have been a pawn used by every man who crosseds her path. Instead, she is a feisty heroine with a steel backbone and a heart of gold.

Like an overeager younger brother, Robert the Bruce admires Wallace's strength and spirit. He longs to follow Wallace into battle, but is forced to tamp down this desire in order to obey the compromising will of his leprous father.

Two other notable characters provide some unexpected comedy relief. Wallace's childhood friend, Hamish (Brendan Gleeson), is a big oaf of a man, but one with a streak of loyalty so prominent it's almost cliché when he dons blue woad and takes up his place by Wallace's side. Although he seems out of place in a story of Scottish independence, Irishman Stephen (David O'Hara) is comfortable walking brazenly into the fray. Stephen's strong sword arm is matched only by his razor sharp wit, both of which prove useful and entertaining at the most unexpected moments.

From the plaintive strains of the bagpipes to the thundering growl of the war drums, this film's soundtrack is a character in its own right. It leads the audience into the battlefield and accompanies death in all its variations.

Panoramic views of Scotland's beauty are marred only by the vicious battles that water the greenery with blood. Both the size and breadth of the battles and the minute details of the fighting are awesome. Gores flies into the camera lens, bringing each strike into precise focus. The fighting is gruesome and realistic in the extreme -- it certainly personalizes the intimacy of what was involved when one could only strike a foe after seeing the whites of his eyes.

Though historically inaccurate in many ways, Braveheart stays true to the mythology behind Scotland's greatest hero. Under Gibson's careful direction and immersing acting style, Wallace is portrayed as both human and godlike. He is an unstoppable force who almost single-handedly manages to inspire Scots living in the 13th and 21st centuries.

The themes of "Braveheart" -- everlasting love, courage, freedom -- are universal. However, it is the majesty of this film's setting and its powerful hero that will surely leave every viewer breathless and romanced.

[Jade Walker]