Release Date(s)2019 (November 4, 2019)
Studio(s)Yellow Brick Films/Metro International (Signature Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
The year is 1306. William Wallace has been dead for a year and, with the former King of Scotts, Alexander III, also dead for twenty years, it’s fallen on Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFadyen) to take up the fight for Scottish independence. But the fight does not go well. His army beaten and in disarray, the Bruce orders his men to return home and goes on the run. Hunted by bandits seeking the English bounty on his head, the Bruce is badly wounded but manages to escape. Found by a makeshift family formed of those left behind by men who died for him, these loyal Scots choose to hide and care for him. But the Bruce must fight not only for his own life, but to find the will to take up the sword again.
Robert the Bruce is a film I’ve been following news of for a few years now, since I first learned of MacFadyen’s effort to see it made. It was directed by the Aussie helmer Richard Gray, whose previous work includes The Lookalike (2014), Sugar Mountain (2016), and Broken Ghost (2018). Shot entirely on location, partly in Scotland and partly in Montana (in the middle of winter, no less—which greatly enhances the authenticity), the film includes a surprisingly good cast. Jared Harris (HBO’s Chernobyl) has a small supporting role, while the main ensemble includes Anna Hutchinson (Encounter) as Morag, the woman who cares for the Bruce, Patrick Fugit (First Man) and Zach McGowan (Agents of SHIELD) as local brigands who hunt him, and a number of fine young actors as Morag’s real and adopted children, all of them joining MacFadyen (who reprises his Braveheart role).
The important thing to know here is that this is not an epic in the mold of Braveheart, yet it’s absolutely a direct sequel to that film. The best way to think of it is as the Bruce’s long dark knight of the soul—the story of how he loses his faith and finds it again. It’s set a year after Wallace’s death as seen in Braveheart, but some eight years before the very last scene in that film—the Battle of Bannockburn—in which Scottish independence is finally won. It’s an intimate, personal story, set on and near one particular farm in the Scottish Highlands. Written by MacFadyen and Eric Belgau, the script is a bit of a slow burn at first. But the production quality is high and the story rewards your patience. With cinematography by John Garrett (who worked previously as a camera operator on Man of Steel, Avengers: Endgame, and HBO’s Watchmen) and music by composer Mel Elias, Robert the Bruce is pleasant surprise. It’s well worth your time.
Robert the Bruce had a brief theatrical release in the UK in mid 2019, but as far as I know it hasn’t run internationally. Signature Entertainment subsequently released the film on Blu-ray Disc in the UK late last year, and the good news is that the disc is all region (it works on US Blu-ray players despite the fact that the packaging indicates it as a Region B disc). Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the image is nicely cinematic. Detail is good, with pleasing textures, and light-to-moderate image grain. The colors are natural and accurate—very much dominated by earth tones—but with a slightly cool look in many scenes befitting the winter landscape. Contrasts are good too, with well detailed blacks. On the whole, this is a very solid image for an indie Blu-ray release.
Audio is offered in English only in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM stereo (ignore the disc’s packaging, which indicates Dolby Digital). The front soundstage is medium wide, with the surround channels largely dominated by ambience and a subtle-but-warm score that recalls James Horner’s work on Braveheart (if with far less percussion) yet also stands on its own. Dialogue clarity is excellent. Tonally, the mix has a full sound, with decent low end. Panning and movement are more subtle, but natural. The 5.1 mix isn’t likely to win any awards, but again it’s solid. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on the disc.
Signature Entertainment’s Blu-ray includes only one special feature, but it’s a good one:
- Audio Commentary with director Richard Gray and writer/actor Angus MacFadyen
This film has obviously been a passion project for MacFadyen (and bless him for it), who talks about his 13-year effort to bring the story to the screen and how the script was originally meant to be a true epic over three hours in length. But by narrowing it down to a more intimate story, the characters came more fully to life. The pair also discusses the cast, the production, and other interesting anecdotes. MacFadyen apparently nearly lost an eye during the shoot. The production was beset by illness and weather issues—par for the course given the frigid Montana locations. Gray also reveals that he first learned of the project from Hutchinson, who’d just worked with MacFadyen on another film, and that Braveheart was the first DVD he ever owned.
I’m genuinely pleased to say that Robert the Bruce is a solid and worthy sequel. It’s well acted, well shot, and adds a great deal to your appreciation of the title character and his journey. Again, the key thing is to remember that this a personal tale, not an epic one. That said, as a fan of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, I’m damn glad to finally see and own this film on Blu-ray. It should cost you less than $20 to import the disc from Amazon.co.uk, so don’t hesitate. It’s certainly recommended.
- Bill Hunt