Exploring the Historical Inaccuracies of Braveheart
There are many amazing war movies: whether it’s medieval sword fights, brutal action from WW2 or futuristic laser fights in space. One which always seems to find its way to the list is Braveheart. There is no denying that some of the scenes in Braveheart make it stand out from the crowd and the intensity of many of the battles doesn’t leave much to the imagination. The movie won ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ in 1996. Not to mention the incredible soundtrack which will be my choice of music if I ever have to lift a sword to fight for independence. Still, there is plenty wrong with the movie in a historical context.
Braveheart has some pretty great Scottish actors: James Cosmo, Brian Cox, Peter Mullan and Tommy Flanagan. For the most part, however, the cast are from England or elsewhere in the world. None other than Mel Gibson, an Australian, plays William Wallace (for some strange reason). Perhaps there were a shortage of suitable Scottish actors at the time or perhaps Gibson simply wanted the role for himself (given that he was also directing the movie). With people getting so angry about white people playing Egyptian characters or live-action adaptations of anime starring non-Asian actors, I feel like you can apply the same logic to this situation.
I can’t say that it bothers me personally because as we’ll soon see, Braveheart isn’t hugely accurate in any case. Not to mention that the movie came out before I could talk so there’s no reason to hold a grudge. I find the whole white-washing controversy to be a little puffed up, although that’s probably a whole post of its own. I do hope that one day we see a Scot play William Wallace. I’d suggest Richard Madden or Gerard Butler for the role! While many from outside Scotland or even the UK may think that Gibson’s Scottish accent is on point, I’d beg to differ.
What Braveheart and Titanic Have in Common
The movie version of events is actually more similar to the works of the poet, “Blind Harry” than it is to actual events. Many people view the movie Braveheart as being a historical film; covering Scotland’s many battles against England during the Scottish Wars of Independence. The movie does indeed follow many historical moments, along with many historical characters. For example, the mighty William Wallace is a hero based in fact. Sadly, much in the same way that Jack and Rose weren’t really a love-struck couple on-board the Titanic, the murder of Wallace’s wife didn’t kick-start the Wars of Independence. At least not as far as any historian can gather.
Granted, Braveheart uses this angle to portray how poorly treated the Scots were at the hands of the English. Yet something about throwing a love story into a movie like this seems so…unnecessary. Especially considering the far more interesting and genuinely historical angles that the movie could have explored.
So if Braveheart lacks historical accuracy, what else is wrong?
Thanks to Braveheart, there is one image that pops into people’s heads at the mention of Scotland’s wars: kilts and blue face paint. It’s true that once upon a time in Scotland’s history; warriors would wear face paint to intimidate enemies. Sadly, this predates the time of Wallace by hundreds of years. This comes from the idea of the “painted people” described by Roman forces during their domination of Great Britain. The Roman army built two great walls (Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall) to defend against these painted “savages” who were usually naked. If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, you’ll now know where George R.R. Marin got his inspiration.
Another major costume error relates to kilts. While these look incredibly Scottish and add to the movie in hilarious ways, they aren’t historically accurate. In fact, kilts didn’t become common until about 500 years after the time of William Wallace. Of course, it’s just a movie and this element certainly isn’t something to negatively review it over…but it’s worth mentioning at the very least. Similarly, we see the English forces in Braveheart wearing matching clothing and sometimes armor. Yet, during these times soldiers would simply wear whatever they could find as most lived in extreme poverty. As such, only knights from very wealthy families would wear full armor, often depicting their family crest.
The battle scenes in Braveheart are awesome! I’m sure nobody would deny that. There are, however some major issues with how they are portrayed in the movie. For example: The Battle of Stirling Bridge. In the movie, there is literally no bridge in sight. Yet in reality, the bridge was instrumental for a Scottish victory. The bridge was narrow, poorly built and limited the number of English troops who could cross at one time. This was a cunning move that allowed the smaller Scottish army to defeat the superior English one. Gibson has admitted that this was the case in order to make the battle more cinematic.
The Battle of Falkirk also has a few inaccuracies. This includes the presence of an Irish flag that isn’t invented for another 340 years! Several things are wrong with the depiction of this historical moment. Firstly, the Irish and Scots didn’t meet on the battlefield and shake hands. While Edward I did indeed use Welsh and Irish conscripts, this scene is plucked straight from Gibson’s mind. Secondly, the real reason the Scots lost wasn’t due to a bloodthirsty Edward I. Rather it was due to a technological disadvantage. The Welsh conscripts made use of longbows which gave the English side an advantage over the Scottish archers.
We’ve touched upon the idea of Wallace’s wife, Murron. While Wallace did have a wife, historians believe her name was Marion. Apparently Mel Gibson was worried people would confuse her with Maid Marion from Robin Hood. Wallace himself isn’t portrayed accurately either. The movie has you believe that Wallace was poor when in actuality he was born into lesser Scottish nobility and was Sir William Wallace long before the timeline of the movie. He was trained to fight and about the strategy of war from a young age. This explains his ability to lead on the battlefield.
Robert the Bruce is probably one of the more accurately depicted characters within the movie. While he didn’t betray Wallace, he was one of the men fighting to be King of Scotland. His father did have leprosy and the family did switch sides…often. Robert the Bruce would go on to become king of Scotland but only after murdering his competition.
At the opposite end of the scale is Isabella of France. In the movie, she negotiates with Wallace on behalf of King Edward I. Ultimately there is an attraction between the two and she falls pregnant with Edward III. In truth, while she is based on a historical figure, she would only have been a child of about 3. In fact, she was only about 10 at the time of Wallace’s execution.
The movie completely skips a pivotal character who played just a much of a role in the Wars for Independence as Wallace: Andrew Moray. Moray had joined his rebellion army with that of Wallace’s and up until the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the pair had been Guardians of Scotland. Both playing roles of importance in managing the army during the preceding battles.
There are many gory and violent scenes within Braveheart but none more memorable than the execution scene. However, the truth is even more disturbing than in the movie. Wallace was stripped naked before being tied by his ankles to a horse-carriage. This dragged him around town to the point where his execution would take place. He was then hanged until the brink of death, had his intestines pulled out and burned in front of him, castrated, chopped into pieces, before finally being beheaded. His head was tarred and placed on a pike while his various body parts were sent to different areas: Perth, Newcastle, Stirling and Berwick.
In the movie, Edward I dies around the same time as Wallace when in fact he lives for another two years at least. The King of England didn’t die in his bed but rather during a campaign to end the Scottish rebellion. Sadly, as inspiring as Wallace shouting “FREEEEDOM!” in Braveheart is, there is no reason to believe this was actually the case. In fact, William Wallace’s last words are unknown.
So Braveheart may not be particularly historically accurate. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great film or a fun re-telling of a Scottish hero. I mean Aldo the Apache’s Basterds didn’t kill Hitler. Yet Inglourious Basterds is still an excellent film to watch. All I can hope for in the future is that any films surrounding the history of Scotland have a larger Scottish cast and stay truer to the events, even if just for the sake of the accent! We all want to see the history of our own country told in an entertaining yet truthful manner which can be a difficult thing to balance. But with a Robert the Bruce movie on it’s way in the coming year with Angus MacFadyen reprising his Braveheart role, we can only hope this “sequel” will do a good job!
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Braveheart? If you enjoyed it, would you prefer a more historically accurate version or are you happy with it the way it is? Comment down below!
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