Battle of the Bastards it is not, but it’s still exciting
Battle of the Bastards it is not, but it’s still exciting

$120 million epic on Netflix

ON A daytrip through the Scottish West Highlands earlier this year, there was no mistaking our kilt-wearing guide's antipathy for the English.

The history of Scots fighting for independence from English invaders has been dramatised before, most notably in Braveheart, the tale of William Wallace immortalised by Mel Gibson.

When you approach the gates of Edinburgh Castle, there are two statues on either side - one is of Wallace and the other of Robert the Bruce, two heroes intrinsically tied to Scottish identity.

Robert the Bruce, the legendary 14th century King of Scots, is revered in his homeland, the stories of his bravery and derring-do a point of national pride. That he's famous for fighting the English back south below the border, well, our guide can give you a few points of why that kind of symbolism is still relevant to many - though Outlaw King's director, Scotsman David Mackenzie doesn't want his film to be taken as a literal rallying cry of nationalist fervour.

So maybe it's odd that the very American Chris Pine was tapped to play Robert, a contemporary of Wallace who picked up the fight after the rebel's death, in the Netflix movie streaming now.

Pine was undoubtedly cast for his star power but also because he was so very good in Mackenzie's brilliant previous flick, Hell or High Water.

Outlaw King, which on its title page is more accurately styled as Outlaw/King, starts off with the Scottish lords pledging fealty to King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), their own infighting and eight years of fatigued war leading to their surrender.

As reward for his family's loyalty, Robert is to be married to Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), the goddaughter of Edward I.

But any such peace is short-lived with draconian taxes and the brutal killing of Wallace stirring unrest in the populace. After dispatching his rival for the crown, Robert the Bruce is named King of the Scots.

 

Yes, you heard correctly, there is indeed a full frontal nude scene featuring Chris Pine
Yes, you heard correctly, there is indeed a full frontal nude scene featuring Chris Pine

 

Predictably, that miffs Edward I and his petulant and arch son Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle). Robert is declared an outlaw and he and his band of supporters, including James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), must fight back against a vastly superior English army, in both men and weaponry, to reclaim their land.

Given how impressive Hell or High Water was, Outlaw King is surprisingly underwhelming.

There is little character development or emotional depth, leaving the viewer with some well-shot battle scenes and THAT Pine full-frontal nude scene, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair.

It's a historical epic that is oddly hard to follow and contracts the timeline enough to annoy purists.

Florence Pugh continues to impress
Florence Pugh continues to impress

It's also incredibly choppy. After a muted reception at its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, Mackenzie went back into the editing suite and cut his almost two-and-a-half hour-long epic down to two hours.

That decision may have picked up the pace but it also throws proper character development and plotting out the window. You'll strain to follow the story, eventually giving up out of frustration.

Despite the gorgeous landscape shots of a beautiful country and an exciting though brutal climactic battle sequence, Outlaw King is one you can miss.

Rating: ★★½

Outlaw King is available to stream on Netflix now.

Share your movies and TV obsessions with @wenleima on Twitter.



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