When I originally heard about this assignment, I was under the mistaken impression about the actual purpose of the assignment. Rather I believed that instead of being an assignment related to history in pop culture, it was a discussion of a personal experience with history in pop culture that led me to pursue a history degree. As such I spent a good while thinking about what the actual origin of my infatuation with history was. Ultimately I came to the origin, which was reading a child’s interpretation of Greek mythology, a children’s guide to mythology as it were, the actual book has long slipped from my memory. Originally I considered using that book, however, being mythology an attempt at studying the artistic liberties taken was rather challenging, since already being fantastic stories there is a fair room for artistic liberties and the modern consumer would be none the wiser. Instead I choose to focus on a movie that is very near and dear to me, a movie that I grew up watching, over and over again, ultimately I figured that it was likely what got me into history. The movie in question was the 1995 action/drama Braveheart starring Mel Gibson as the Scottish hero William Wallace. Clearly I had misunderstood the assignment, but regardless I decided to use Braveheart anyway, since it would work just as well as a study on the artistic liberties of movie producers, and provides a clear example of a movie historians get upset about in regards to historical inaccuracies. As such in this analysis I will look at Braveheart from both a historians perspective as well as the movie producers, and I will outline the positive and negative qualities of the movie itself.
The film itself has a very clear target audience, which is a much more mature group of individuals. This can be fairly easily seen in just watching the film; the incredible amount of violence, bloodshed, and gratuitous romance successfully attracted a wide audience of young adults. To give Bravehearta genre would be one of the more challenging tasks I could think of, ultimately it comes down to which section of the film you happen to watching at any given time. Throughout the films three-hour length there is more than enough violence to warrant being an action film, and in the same capacity enough romance to be a film of that genre. Ultimately I believe that all these elements come together and form one unique genre, a genre I feel has been severely underutilized by modern Hollywood. This genre is the epic, which considering the film was based off of a poem is almost well, poetic. This is because many long poems that tell stories like Braveheartare called epics, the purpose of which are to tell a story in an entertaining manner, which is something the film does very well. In regards to the purposes of the film, that is a question, which has a few more concerns. Ultimately, this is likely because of the one major purpose the film has, critics believe it failed utterly. This is most clearly seen in the review from The Guardian, “Seemingly intended as a piece of anti-English propaganda, Braveheart offers an even greater insult to Scotland by making a total pig's ear of its heritage.” By which the author Alex von Tunzelmann is referencing the complete lack of historical accuracy in the film. Braveheartattempts to rationalize this by claiming the story isn’t told because history is written by the victors, and Scotland didn’t win, once again The Guardianhas a colourful Scottish themed response. “Regardless of whether you read English or Scottish historians on the matter, Braveheart still serves up a great big steaming haggis of lies.”
Braveheartis a movie that portrays itself as an incredible historical epic. And an epic it most certainly is, with a nearly three hour run time the film manages to fit just about everything needed to make a good film in. The critics consensus on the review website Rotten Tomatoes best states that, “Distractingly violent and historically dodgy, Mel Gibson’s Braveheartjustifies its epic length by delivering enough sweeping action, drama, and romance to match its ambition.” The general consensus of the reviews is that the only purpose of the violence and romance is to distract from the historical inaccuracy. And historical inaccuracy is definitely one way to put it, there are so many different occasions historical inaccuracies you could fill out an entire CVS receipt with them. Amongst the biggest issues, there is the issue of the wardrobe with kilts being worn even though they did not become popular until much later, the blue face worn was only worn by the Picts centuries earlier. The most spectacular error was the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which considering the bridge is rather a prominent feature of name; the film notably missed the presence of an actual bridge. These are but three errors but there are enough throughout the entire film to make it enough of a poster child of historical inaccuracies to rival 300. The only redeeming feature for the historical inaccuracies is simply put in Roger Ebert’s review where he writes, “Gibson is not filming history here, but myth. William Wallace may have been a real person, but "Braveheart" owes more to Prince Valiant, Rob Roy and Mad Max.” Put this way it is a little easier to forgive the film, when we can see the creative choices were purely intended to entertain and not to portray even the remotest intent of reality.
Ultimately when it comes to this film I am a little conflicted, I would like to say that it both does and doesn’t work for me. On one hand it drew me towards a history degree, it fueled the passion I have for history, and for that I want to forgive it. On the other hand however, the blatant and often glaring historical inaccuracies hurt those very same historical values. It is for this reason that I say it both does and doesn’t work, I want to love the film for much the same reason that became as popular as it is, and allowed to win the awards that it did. It’s a good way to spend three hours; it has a story that draws you in and keeps you entertained, but ultimately if you are looking to watch a film that has any basis in historical reality you would do better to watch something else, at least in 300’sinterpretation of the Battle of Thermopylae they put the battle in a narrow canyon, true to the stories original location considering Thermopylae is Greek for Hot Gates, the location of which is a narrow canyon. Instead of the way it is in Braveheart where a battle supposedly centered on a bridge instead occurs in an open field with absolutely no bridge to be seen. As strange a feeling as it is to be praising 300for even the slightest aspect of historical accuracy, Braveheart can take solace in that it at least isn’t as historical inaccurate as 300. The film is also seen as Anglophobic in that its portrayal of England is horribly racist, and could almost be accused of inciting hatred. At the end the intent of the film is what either makes or breaks it. If the intent was to entertain, then it most certainly accomplished that goal. However, if the intent was to educate, or never mind that, to have any grounding in reality, then no, it most certainly didn’t. Ultimately, I would say you should watch Braveheart if you haven’t already, just don’t be prepared for anything groundbreaking in the field of history.
Ebert, Roger. “Braveheart.” RogerEbert.com. Accessed April 12, 2018. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/braveheart-1995.
Gibson, Mel. Dir. Braveheart. 1995; Seattle, WA: Paramount Pictures, 2000. DVD.
Von Tunzelmann, Alex. “Braveheart: Dancing Peasants, Gleaming Teeth and a Cameo from Fabio.” The Guardian, July 31, 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/jul/30/3.