Outlaw King – Netflix’s Medieval movie

Offical trailer © Netlix

I didn’t spend much time on Netflix the last months, since its digress into mediocrity. In my opinion it is leaning to much towards to B-status series and old movies. So when I saw the anouncements for Outlaw King, it caught my attention immediately. Would there finally be a distinctive, new movie on Netflix ?

We are dropped into the story post-William Wallace, in 1304, as the Scottish nobles swear fealty to Edward I. This intro will show you the intracacies of the court, clans and nobles. Almost immediately I was offered reassurance by the appearance of James Cosmo (as the Bruce sr.). No movie about Scottish history would be complete without him.

Outlaw King shows us not the most aspiring or ambitious of wannabe kings. He only declared for the kingship after the death of his father. His choice was most clear when he killed John Comyn, this warped him into the front of the conflict. He seems not be a very outspoken person, so no rallying speeches and declarations. Only a man who is caught up in  warfare and betrayal with no choice but to go on, faced by the consequences of his own mistakes. With a gritty perseverance he wins back clan by clan and castle by castle. His personal life is shown through his family: his daughter, wife, and brothers. This personal touch seems also to be his strength as a leader: to act as a soldier commands the loyalty of the Scottish people.

The decisive battle of Loudon Hill in 1307 marks the end of the movie, as it is the turning point in history for Scotland. At that point it doesn’t bode well for Edward II, who excels in making a fool of himself.

American actor Chris Pine as Robert de Bruce ? Yes! Not perfect, but very adequate. His Scottish accent is not overdone, as is often the case by non-native actors. Pine certainly manages to convey his inner struggle and reluctance. He is supported by good actors: Stephen Dillane as Edward I is very convincing as the seasoned king and commander. Florence Pugh shines as his loyal second wife. Some of the acting is a little off, for instance the character of James Douglas as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I’m sure he studied some of the old lore concerning battle frenzy, or Viking beserkers.

However, the true leading role in this movie is the absolutely stunning Scottish landscape. For a large part it defined the nature of the warfare. This is also what gives the movie an overall very Scottish ‘feel’ – the entire story was blended in very well with beautiful scenery and castles. It made me yearn immediately for a trip to Scotland!

It is a merit to this movie that it’s not too ‘Hollywood’ – the story is not ruined by cheezy romance and dalliance, but focusses on the history. It shows you the bloody, muddy and brutal reality of warfare in the Middle Ages. To be honest: I’m not an expert in Scottish history. I can’t tell you how acurate the story of Outlaw King is. Off course, choices were made in what to show in the movie, but it shows legitimate.  I know it has triggered me to want to learn more about these events, and so I will.

To answer my initial question: yes, this is certainly a distinctive movie on Netflix. Well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think this movie could be a blockbuster in the cinemas – without too much of the ‘trapping frills of Hollywood’ it is most likely not for the masses. Netflix is perhaps the better choice for showing us this movie, where it can reach all fans of historical movies worldwide and let them appreciate it in their own livingroom. And the best part ? You can watch it again.

Want to know more about the Outlaw King? I recommend reading ‘Robert de Bruce. King of Scots.’ by Michael Penman (2018) – ISBN 9780300240313. 

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