Scotland’s David Mackenzie directs what is, in historical terms, a follow-up to Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’. In 1304, with an uprising thwarted, Robert the Bruce (a mullet-sporting Chris Pine, scuffed up but still smouldering) vows to serve under England’s Edward I (Stephen Dillane), along with the rest of Scotland. Of course, that harmony doesn’t last long, as the English are all riddled with lunacy and bloodlust – it’s like Brexit, but smellier. And so the battles begin.
This is the third consecutive Mackenzie film to focus on misguided masculinity. In 2013’s ‘Starred Up’ it was young offender Eric (Jack O’Connell); ‘Hell or High Water’ (2016) had twitchy bank robber Tanner (Ben Foster); and ‘Outlaw King’ has problem child Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), determined to prove his worth by being the world’s biggest bastard. He presides over some hanging-and-disembowelling double bills that will haunt your nightmares.
The battles are brutal, the bludgeoning horrid, yet ‘Outlaw King’ is frustratingly muted. It’s authentic but rarely dynamic; bombast is dialled down, presumably to present itself as less puffed-up than Gibson’s blockbuster. The conventions – a romance, a little speech on the battlefield, a final showdown – are there but low-key, the film cutting off its nose (and various limbs) to spite its very bloody face. Its refusal to dress itself up is admirable. But it’s a slow trudge through the sludge.