Posted on September 13th, 2018
by Rab Bruce’s Spider
The ongoing arguments over Braveheart are interesting if nothing else. There are a couple of aspects I want to touch on because, as with so many artistic productions, there are several levels on which the film can be judged.
One of the main arguments put forward about Braveheart is that it is only loosely based on recorded historical events. But that is because it is a film intended primarily to entertain by telling a story. Most films which fall into the historical fiction genre are based on recorded events but, for reasons of narrative, alter the story for a modern audience. Look at films like, for example, 300, U571, and Gladiator. Whether you like them from an entertainment perspective or not, all of them are based on recorded historical events yet bear only a passing resemblance to what is reported to have happened. Even films like that perennial favourite, Zulu, which are more accurate historically, still take some significant liberties in order to create an entertaining narrative.
Other historical fiction is produced in novels and plays, and all of these must, for reasons of maintaining audience engagement, create a story which will differ to some extent from the events recorded in history books. Take Macbeth as one example. One of Shakespeare’s enduring plays, it has about as much relationship to historical events as The Hobbit, yet nobody seems to get upset about its representation of Scottish history.
So why the fuss over Braveheart? I think it is because the film has an emotional appeal which can act as a rallying cry for those who want to see Scotland become independent. This is why an edited screening is planned in George square on Saturday. So I suspect many of the objections to this plan come not from a dislike of the historical inaccuracies but from a fear that opponents of Scottish independence will use this ploy to make sneering remarks about Yes supporters being kilt-wearing, flag-waving, blue-faced fanatics with no grasp of the real issues.
Perhaps we should be concerned that some Unionists will respond this way, but let’s not forget that the people who are likely to make such accusations are the same ones who are constantly harking back to days of Empire, the Battle of Britain, Trafalgar and Agincourt. When you look at it that way, we really shouldn’t be too defensive about Braveheart, especially since there are plenty of people who can make rational, logical and highly informed arguments in favour of Scottish self-determination.
We should remember that Braveheart was not made to appeal solely to a Scottish audience. It was aimed at a worldwide audience and it was very successful. The storyline may have veered away from recorded events, but it was well told and had a wide appeal all around the globe. This is because, being made for entertainment, it created that essential emotional bond with the audience. It might be worth comparing its appeal with another historical epic film called Alexander which was made with the declared intention of closely following the recorded events of the life of Alexander the great. It did precisely that, and it was a flop because the story was not presented for a modern audience. I have no idea what people in Macedonia think about Alexander as a film, but I’m fairly sure they’d have preferred a less historically accurate but more emotionally engaging film which promoted their nation to a worldwide audience.
Storytelling is a fundamental human activity. We all love stories in one shape or another. Films are made for modern audiences and the best ones create that bond with the audience so that we become engaged with the characters. Whether we take that emotional attachment to a second level is entirely up to each of us as individuals.
We may cringe when we hear Mel Gibson’s attempts at a Scottish accent, we may shake our heads at the lack of a bridge in the battle of Stirling Bridge, we may recognise the flaws in many aspects of the film, but we cannot deny it is a great story, an impressive representation and a powerful film. It celebrates an important character and an important time in our history, and promotes that era all around the world. If it gets people talking about Scotland, then that is a good thing, enabling us to explain our more modern outlook on the future of our nation. So, while I have doubts that showing the film in George Square will achieve much other than to arouse emotions, I am not going to cringe about the film simply because some Unionists may sneer at it. In my opinion, it’s a damn sight more entertaining and relevant to Scotland than films like Victoria & Abdul, The Crown, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and all the other pro-British films that have been produced in the past few years. And none of those are totally historically accurate either.