Robert the Bruce (2 stars)

Robert the Bruce

Angus MacFadyen's long-planned passion project struggles to live up to its ambitions

Winter 1313-14 and Scotland's guerrilla warrior king Robert the Bruce is on the run. It's nae 'orrible Englishmen on his heels, but his ain folk, who are fed up with him and keen to sell him to the English. Gravely injured, he spends a feverish age in a cave contemplating the instructive try, try again labours of a spider. Eventually, he's rescued by a widow crofter and plucky bairns, from whom he learns empathy, humility and an understanding of the sacrifices made for the cause of independence.

Given that the likeable, stalwart Angus Macfadyen – co-writer and producer as well as the star of his long-planned personal passion project – first played the Bruce in Braveheart, there were expectations that RtB would be a kind of sequel to Mel Gibson's 1995 Oscar winner. If only. Macfadyen and Australian director Richard Gray give us a speculative chamber piece that strives to be poetic but is dour, dull and clearly constrained by a wee budget. While there is some Scottish scenery on show, much of this was shot in – wait for it – Montana, where both snowy mountains and film grants may be found.

It's not entirely inapt since this plays like a medieval western. Jared Harris, fresh from TV triumph Chernobyl, plays the Bruce's hated rival John Comyn but sadly is dispatched between the Summary of Scottish History in Three Long Captions and the film's title. Daniel Portman, hot off Game of Thrones (where he played Gwendoline Christie's right-hand man Podrick), is, like Macfadyen, an actual Scot, but he only gets a few lines when he pops up. Most of the cast is American. Leading lady and co-producer Anna Hutchison is a Kiwi who used to play a Power Ranger, and the chief villain, a Highland sheriff bent on revenge and bounty, is played by charismatic Black Sails star Zach McGowan. In short, the accents are varied.

If you want battles and spectacle, the flashier Netflix wannabe epic Outlaw King is more Braveheart 2-ish. The biggest skirmish here involves perhaps a dozen people. If, however, you appreciate earnest musings on the nature of kingship and the cost of freedom this tries hard to oblige.

Selected release from Fri 28 Jun.

Robert the Bruce

  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 15
  • Directed by: Richard Gray
  • Cast: Angus Macfadyen, Jared Harris, Anna Hutchison, Patrick Fugit
  • UK release: 28 June 2019

Robert the Bruce (Macfadyen) spends time in a cave contemplating the nature of kingship before being rescued by a widow crofter and plucky bairns. Micro-budget chamber piece which strives to be poetic but is dour and dull, but if you want earnest musings on the cost of freedom it tries hard to oblige.