Last Friday I ventured to Edinburgh’s Omni Vue to attend Outlaw King‘s all-important Scottish premiere, catching up with the cast as well as director David Mackenzie and producer Gillian Berrie.
Outlaw King is Netflix’s newest big-budget historical epic, depicting the tale of Robert the Bruce. Bruce’s story takes place in 14th century Scotland, straight after William Wallace is hung, drawn and quartered and boasts everything you want in a Scottish retell; blood, gore, epic fight scenes, religion vs. politics, forbidden romance and Scottish accents that aren’t…horrendous. Ultimately Outlaw King evokes in the Scottish audience (exactly what David Mackenzie set out to do), a strange sense of pride in their country.
The film is rumoured to have brought around £17.5 million to the Scottish economy – who says we can’t have our own booming film industry? Boasting over 50 filming locations from the borders up to the Isle of Skye. One of the most magical parts of this film was the cinematography (Barry Ackroyd – Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips) and the effort that Mackenzie and Berrie have clearly put into scouting locations. The use of long sweeping pans across Scotland’s finest hillsides, grassland, waterfalls and bays is what stands this film out amongst other Scottish films. Locations include Linlithgow, Doune Castle, Glasgow Cathedral Church, Borthwick Castle, Craigmillar Castle, Dunfermline Abbey and cast-favourite, Talisker Bay.
Pairing the strong cinematography with brutal close-ups of mud-soaked battles, trampled bodies and grimacing faces was very impressive. To take such callous and raw scenes and place them into such a beautiful setting is what drives the films honesty. There is mud everywhere and yet Scotland has never looked so charming or appealing.
“We shot in, I think, 50-odd locations and one of my favourite accomplishments of this film is making a t-shirt called the ‘Lion Rampant Tour T-shirt’ and on the back it had all the locations (like a music tour) and I think we had like 51. I would say I had many, many favourite filming locations but Talisker Bay is up there as one of my favourites”
– Chris Pine, Scottish Premiere
Pine plays Robert the Bruce, and unfortunately is the only cast member I wasn’t sold on. He was continually out-staged by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and on-screen wife Florence Pugh. However, unlike Mel Gibson’s performance, Pine’s Scottish accent is completely bearable, at a stretch even believable. The romantic narrative between Pine and Pugh carried him right up until the final battle scene, when he turned from bland to bold, completely falling into a believably heroic Scottish warrior.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as James Douglas, a brother outlaw of Robert who seeks return of his land, is phenomenal. Johnson is ferocious, dynamic and chaotic- the perfect Scotsman. He outdoes himself during a scene where he takes his castle and land back, giving a fierce performance in the ensuing battle in a church. I can only hope we see more of ATJ on our screens. His facial expressions in Outlaw King will be 2019’s biggest meme for sure. Florence Pugh carried the romantic narrative, as a strong-willed and supportive wife. Her performance is heart-felt and melancholic, driving the audience through the epic with her longing, support and fierce-ness (and pure acting talent) for her husband and step-daughter. Other actors on-screen consisted of James Cosmo, Tony Curran, Chris Fulton and the young lady herself, Josie O’Brien (Bruce’s daughter) to name a few.
Director David McKenzie and producer Gillian Berrie are a match made in heaven. Their ability to capture a narrative in such a romantic and engaging way is Scottish talent at its finest. Having spoken to several of the cast regarding filming, Talisker Bay was a favourite, used to depict a setting of escape for the outlaws before their final leg to defeat the English, how very fitting.
Overall the plot delivers classic themes of romance, religion vs. the state, fighting, passion and bravery. The film left the audience gasping, squirming, uncomfortable and proud, evoking a response I reckon only really comes from a Scottish audience. At times a lot was crammed into the plot and it would have definitely done well as a trilogy. However, substantial money was spent on this film and you can tell no expense was spared telling this thrilling story of Robert the Bruce and his comrades.
What stood out most throughout the film was the score from Tony Doogan and Jim Sutherland. Eerie, Celtic, romantic and very subtle, a score to match the ultimate Scottish cinematography. Not wishing to take away from the shots themselves, the score was well written to enhance the viewing experience, not to take over. The music, made by Scottish producers and composers, was a fit like no other. How can you have such beautiful shots without beautiful music to consume them with?
Overall, without the budget, casting and great score, Outlaw King could have been a total loss. Mackenzie, Berrie and co. have turned a story that has been told a thousand times into a visual picture of Scottish history. A response to the current political climate, history and ultimately the pride and emotion of Scottish audiences that is so regularly lost through Hollywood.
Can you believe I managed to get through this whole review without talking about Pine’s… you know.