‘Robert the Bruce’: Angus Macfayden Reprises His ‘Braveheart’ Role of Legendary King

Few kings have been romanticized as much as Robert the Bruce, the medieval monarch who spent thirty years battling the English not only for his throne, but for an independent Scotland. In less than two years, two films have been made about Bruce, first the Netflix biopic “Outlaw King,” and now “Robert the Bruce.” This latest film is considered to be an unofficial sequel to “Braveheart,” the 1995 classic that not only won the Oscar for Best Picture, but also had a lasting impact on culture and even the political landscape in Scotland. Angus Macfayden reprises his role as Bruce, picking up after the death of William Wallace, the legendary knight and leader in the First War of Scottish Independence whose story is told in the first film. While “Braveheart” was a sweeping epic, “Robert the Bruce” has a more intimate feel, as it focuses more on the ordinary people who risked and sacrificed their own lives in the name of Bruce and his cause.

“Robert the Bruce” begins with its hero at a low point, as after several battles the crown is still out of his grasp. He’s constantly being stabbed in the back, sometimes even literally, and in the opening scenes we see him take down John Comyn (Jared Harris), a baron who lured him to his house with a promise of support, only to betray him. Comyn accuses him of being a Wallace wannabe, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as subsequent scenes show just how much of Wallace’s bravery and compassion has rubbed off on him. Early on, he releases his own troops after seeing how tired and homesick they all are. A trio of them led by an unscrupulous man named Will (Patrick Fugit) repay his kindness by deciding to hunt him down in order to receive the bounty the English have put on his head.

A chain of events brings Bruce to the doorstep of Morag (Anna Hutchinson), the widow of a farmer who died fighting for him. Under her care is her 11-year-old son Scot (Gabriel Bateman), as well as her teen niece Iver (Talitha Bateman, Gabriel’s real-life sister), and her teen nephew Carney (Brandon Lessard), both children of two separate brothers who died in battle. This deeply spiritual woman doesn’t hesitate to take the wounded uncrowned king into her home, believing that God has sent him to her. This is a courageous move on her part, as her clan has long ago lost faith in Bruce, and her brother-in-law Brandubh (Zach McGowan), a sheriff who sniffs around hoping to marry her, is virulently anti-Bruce. Also complicating things is the fact that young Scot resents Bruce for being the cause of his father’s death, as Morag reveals her husband stayed loyal to Bruce after the rest of their clan changed allegiances.  

“Robert the Bruce” features an international cast that includes some familiar American faces, including Emma Kenney as Briana, the daughter of a local sword-maker (Kevin McNally) who’s also Carney’s sweetheart. The film has a bit of a feminist strike, as both Iver and Briana show their bravery during a climatic battle. Melora Walters also appears as Ylfa, a spiritual guide who is involved in a hokey subplot in which Morag comes to her about a dream she had about Scot dying in battle. However, she does have a satisfying scene in which she goes head-to-head with Brandubh, revealing to him a harsh truth.

The film doesn’t come close to reaching the impossibly high bar set by “Braveheart,” and while Macfayden, who also co-wrote the screenplay, does a fine job, he doesn’t have the movie star charisma of Mel Gibson or “Outlaw King” star Chris Pine. However, “Robert the Bruce” offers something new, a story in which politics take a back seat to characters who represent the thousands of people who played a role in bringing about Scottish independence whose names are lost to history.

Robert the Bruce” is available April 24 on VOD.