Political Film Review #577

The Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England joined on May 1, 1707, to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Separate parliaments became one parliament, though the two legal systems remained separate. Scottish educational, religious and other institutions have remained distinct from the rest of the UK, maintaining Scottish culture and national identity. Now some in Scotland want independence again. Although still represented in the parliament in London, a separate Scotland parliament started up in 1998 to handle domestic affairs. A referendum on independence failed in 2014, gaining 45 percent approval.

In an effort to recall the days of Scottish independence, Outlaw King reverts to the Middle Ages, and titles begin the film with some historical context: In 1286, (40 years after King Henry III of England unilaterally fixed a border with Scotland), the King of the Scots died without an heir, so King Edward I of England (played by Stephen Dillane) volunteered to choose between two claimants but instead duplicitously asserted hegemony over Scotland. In response, the first of several wars of Scottish independence began in 1295.

When England defeats the Scottish army under William Wallace, claimants to the Scottish throne, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) and John Comyn (Callan Mulvey), have no alternative but to pledge loyalty to King Edward I. After Robert the Bruce kills Comyn in 1296, he is crowned Robert I and proceeds to recruit an army from various Scottish clans in order to evict the English from Scotland. During much of the film, Robert the Bruce is depicted as an honorable person with the best interests of the Scottish people at heart, while the English are viewed as less than chivalrous. The contrast heightens when Edward I dies, and his nasty son Edward II (Billy Howle) assumes the throne, eager to defeat the Scots in an unchivalrous manner. Many battle scenes ensue, as Robert I tries to take back Scottish sovereignty until victory at the well-planned Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Titles at the end inform that Edward II was later deposed by nobles.

Directed by David Mackenzie, Outlaw King clearly suggests reasons for Scottish independence today, as England withdraws from the European Union without much attention to the effect on Scotland. Accordingly, filmviewers await sequels that will bring the narrative forward to the present, and the Political Film Society has nominated Outlaw King as best film exposé of 2018. MH