Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning 1995 Braveheart is an impassioned epic about William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish leader of a popular revolt against England’s tyrannical Edward I (Patrick McGoohan). Gibson cannily plays Wallace as a man trying to stay out of history’s way until events force his hand, an attribute that instantly resonates with several of the actor’s best-known roles, especially Mad Max. The subsequent camaraderie and courage Wallace shares in the field with fellow warriors is pure enough and inspiring enough to bring envy to a…
Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning 1995 Braveheart is an impassioned epic about William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish leader of a popular revolt against England’s tyrannical Edward I (Patrick McGoohan). Gibson cannily plays Wallace as a man trying to stay out of history’s way until events force his hand, an attribute that instantly resonates with several of the actor’s best-known roles, especially Mad Max. The subsequent camaraderie and courage Wallace shares in the field with fellow warriors is pure enough and inspiring enough to bring envy to a viewer, and even as things go wrong for Wallace in the second half, the film does not easily cave in to a somber tone. One of the most impressive elements is the originality with which Gibson films battle scenes, featuring hundreds of extras wielding medieval weapons. After Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, and even Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, you might think there is little new that could be done in creating scenes of ancient combat; yet Gibson does it. —Tom Keogh
Mel Gibson’s birth-of-a-nation epic Braveheart does for England what Spartacus did for Rome: every Englishman in this film is weak or nasty or a fool, or all three. Gibson plays William Wallace, the highland warrior whose fierce fighting spirit prompted Robert the Bruce’s memorable victory over the English at Bannockburn. The film opens with boy Wallace losing his father and brother to the murdering English. Gibson’s over-age Wallace then indulges in an unintentionally risible spot of teenage romance with the chaste Murron (Catherine McCormack), who is promptly despatched by yet another wicked Englishman. Gibson swings into action in some truly impressive (and horribly gory) fight scenes, culminating in the battles of Stirling and Falkirk.
When not separating English body parts, Gibson finds time for a clandestine romance with Isabelle, the Princess of Wales (Sophie Marceau), whom he manages to impregnate, thereby ensuring that the current British monarchy are all descended from him and not from William the Conqueror as they might heretofore have supposed. He trounces the weak and venial English at every turn, causing England’s nasty Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) to cough and splutter a lot. Only treachery by the Scotch nobility (lowlanders to a man) stops Wallace’s triumphant crusade. His final apotheosis, complete with pre-Passion of the Christ crucifixion imagery, posits Wallace as the redeemer of his country’s lost independence.
The set-piece battles are a feast for the senses: a combination of the scale of Spartacus with the mud of Branagh’s Henry V. But the continual use of slow motion in tandem with the gorgeous scenic backdrops and James Horner’s cloying “folksy” music score of indeterminate national origin, enhances the feeling that this is a slick promo for the Scottish tourist board (ironic, perhaps, that much of it was shot in Ireland). Gibson and his Caledonian costars give the impression that a good time was had by all. —Mark Walker
A stupendous historical saga, Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for star Mel Gibson. He plays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish commoner who unites the various clans against a cruel English King, Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan). The scenes of hand-to-hand combat are brutally violent, but they never glorify the bloodshed. There is such enormous scope to this story that it works on a smaller, more personal scale as well, essaying love and loss, patriotism and passion. Extremely moving, it reveals Gibson as a multitalented performer and remarkable director with an eye for detail and an understanding of human emotion. (His first directorial effort was 1993’s Man Without a Face.) The film is nearly three hours long and includes several plot tangents, yet is never dull. This movie resonates long after you have seen it, both for its visual beauty and for its powerful story. —Rochelle O’Gorman
Barnes and Noble
A massively mounted historical epic starring and directed by Mel Gibson, Braveheart celebrates our natural yearning for freedom and the ability of one heroic man to define an entire revolution. It’s the amazing story of William Wallace (Gibson), a 13th-century Scottish warrior who rallies his countrymen to combat the tyranny of England’s King Edward (Patrick McGoohan). By virtue of his charismatic leadership, Wallace turns a ragtag army of peasants into a formidable fighting unit that battles the British army to a standstill. As played by Gibson, he’s a dedicated patriot who leads his people toward freedom with messianic fervor. The battle scenes are presented in uncompromising, graphic detail; Gibson won’t let his viewers forget that liberty is achieved only at great personal cost. Sprawling, passionate, and very much in the tradition of Spartacus, Braveheart fully deserved its many Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director) and has taken its place in the firmament of classic movie spectacles. Ed Hulse