These types of films are my favourite niche. Medieval period pieces are among the genres that film has probably done the most disservice to, the only passable medieval piece of the past decade being a fantasy show (thanks HBO). That said, the first look at “Outlaw King” was promising and upon finally seeing it on my streaming service of choice, it is probably the best medieval piece I’ve ever seen.
The story follows Robert the Bruce (played by Chris Pine), Earl of Carrick and eventual king of Scots in the early days of the Scottish war for independence. Kicking off in 1304, the story of Robert Bruce’s campaign is set right after the English force a pledge of fealty from the Scottish lords and is incidentally more or less directly following the end of the film “Braveheart.” Fortunately “Outlaw King” is not a historical atrocity like “Braveheart” and manages to miss almost all of the historically inaccurate tropes most medieval period pieces tend to fall prey to. People are clean and only covered in blood and dirt when it makes sense, and clothing is colourful and patterned. If there’s nothing else to be taken from this film, it is historically accurate in everything from wardrobe to the portrayal of historical battles.
The one-on-one fights tend to be a whole lot more Hollywood and there are locations that, despite having been shot on site at historic Scottish castles, have some more obvious modern renovations. The performances were good, sometimes even surprisingly good, across the board. At first, I was not prepared to buy Pine as Robert the Bruce. Fortunately, Pine was given the chance to play a much more subtle and stoic character and the general consensus was his accent was also quite good. It was refreshing to see Pine tackle a very different role, and it also was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen come from him across his entire filmography.
Florence Pugh played Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth Burgh, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson played the charming, James Douglas. Pugh’s performance is really solid and Taylor-Johnson has come so far from being an awkward teenager in “Kickass.” There’s a handful of other really great performances, Stephen Dillane as King Edward Longshanks being the last I’ll note. I was not disappointed by a single actor, not even the child actors.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film as both a story and as a historical piece. Sure, I’m a nerd and I appreciate plates of coats and proper medieval wardrobe, but if all of the writing and filmmaking is iffy, I’m not really willing to look the other way. When it comes to these films, it’s usually either the quality of the history or the quality of the filmmaking that suffers. Surprisingly, neither does in this film. It’s not perfect, but the writing is good, the cinematography is stunning and ultimately, the story was really engaging and compelling.