Braveheart Shmaveheart


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The film, Braveheart, is an essential weapon in the arsenal of unionist derision.

The history of invasion and colonialism teaches us that the chief political tactic to undermine a peoples’ confidence is deny its history and then rewrite it.

Massively popular worldwide, Braveheart won five Academy Awards and is shown on television regularly. The film arrived in time to coincide with a growing confidence in Scotland’s political ambitions. It is therefore a prime target for debunking. The litany of disdain each and every part has attracted is astonishing.

The only thing the ignorant miss in their frenzy to lampoon the film is the obvious: Wallace sported a full beard. Mel Gibson plays Wallace as the only man in Scotland who owns a razor.

That said, I weary of the cudgel used to bruise a natural pride in one’s country. Some people really do need to “get a life.”

A common, utterly spurious criticism is, it contains factual errors. Good. I hope it has lots. Drama is not documentary. To condemn it for creative license is to show an ignorance of the dramatic method of story telling, the process of elevating the actual to the symbolic.

No one condemns Shakespeare’s version of MacBeth as historically insane though it is. Historians recount MacBeth was one of Scotland’s most popular kings. A story of a wise, generous Scottish king spreading largesse and happiness among his subjects is not dramatic material. Where is the conflict, the tension? The play raises self-centred, wicked ambition to the level of great tragedy. It exposes the dark side of human nature.

Nevertheless, books giving a revisionist history of Scotland written by obscure academics, funded by unnamed institutions, take time to offer forensic analysis of our cultural icons. Scotland’s men and women of note are targets for the slings and arrows of outrageous bile. I count at least three attempts to take Wallace’s legacy apart – a kind of second death sentence, you might say – hung, drawn, quartered, and now defiled.

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Sir Francis, not Charlie!

Who heaps ridicule on Sir Francis Drake’s accomplishments, or the Duke of Wellington, to name two obvious heroes of England’s empire? Who cares if Sir Francis Drake did not really play one last round of bowls unhurried by the approach of Spain’s mighty Armada? Maybe he was in his local quaffing mead. If he was playing bowls perhaps he panicked, fell to the ground in fear chewing the grass, and then, embarrassed by those watching, pulled himself together. “You didn’t see that. Tell people I carried on playing.” His stoicism perpetuates the myth of the Englishman’s supposed phlegmatic attitude in the face of intimidating forces. I would rather know he froze in shock. That’s only human.

Does it matter if Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, (a native of Ireland, but let’s gloss over that uncomfortable fact) did not invent the Wellington boot at all merely instruct Hoby’s, his shoemaker in London, to make his hessian boots watertight? In the redesign Hoby made them comfortable enough to be worn indoors – and Wellesley took every opportunity to stride about in them – as well as flash them when on horseback, a military man to his epaulettes.

It was Hoby who dubbed them the Wellington, a smart selling ploy. Was the hero of Waterloo (now part of Belgium) angst ridden before the battle, and took it out on Kitty his long-suffering wife? Who knows? But every film made depicts him as statuesque, without personal doubts.

And on the subject of mythologizing national heroes …

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Scott of Epic Screw-up

Robert Falcon Scott, “Scott of the Antarctic,” is celebrated as an iconic “British” hero. There have been any number of filmed dramas made of his life and exploits. Unlike his Norwegian counterparts led by Roald Amundsen, skilled at polar exploration, Scott’s plans and arrangements were lethally incompetent: the wrong date to start his trek to the South Pole, the wrong provisions, the wrong clothing, using horses instead of dogs, man-hauling the preferred way to lug heavy tents and provisions on sledges, tractors whose engine froze solid in an instant.

Only one companion had medical skills. When he became ill it left no one to administer help to the others if struck down. The expedition was a monumental failure. Scott was architect of it. In fact, he was heavily criticised in his day for his plans and for the death of his companions. That was then.

Today Scott is celebrated a hero in the English mould, not an all-time loser of his own hubris. What of Amundsen and his team? Well, he wasn’t English, therefore we have nothing to learn from his undoubted superior skills and tenacity. Forget him.

So, yes, Scott’s fated journey is a story of heroism, but not of intelligence.

The fascinating Polar Museum in Cambridge devotes a large section to Scott’s “heroism.” There is scant mention of Amundsen’s superior preparations and ability. The dramatic film made of Scott, the main role played by Sir John Mills, is chronically sentimental. The story is told of great men beaten by the element’s, succumbing to fate when all energy and hope are spent. Their efforts were heroic not dumb.

This is akin to our habit of praising soldiers after they are killed in battle. How much better to praise them when alive by the simple expedient of avoiding wars, invasions, and incompetent generals.

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A wink is as good as a nod

Has a Scottish historian drawn attention to the risible myth of Lord Nelson’s final words while lying on deck mortally wounded? His final words are apocryphal, “Kiss me, Hardy.” Oil paintings depicting his death are given a beatific treatment, part and parcel of a nation’s patriotic embellishment of great achievement in extremis.

There is plenty of scepticism suggesting one man alone could not have generated naval exactness to the extent that it disciplined England’s navy so precisely it won the battle of Trafalgar without set back or difficulty. Where were the mobile phones and computers to dispatch immediate instruction and positions?

Many other brave officers and sailors played their part, plus a few ill-chosen French vessels and Villeneuve’s tactical decisions. (Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, the French Admiral.) Nelson was admiral of the fleet, his death in victory all the more poignant, his ascent to sainthood justified for the times. He is an English icon.

Five of the ships under Nelson’s command were captained by Scots but it was an English victory, not a Scottish-British one. The flags that exhorted every man to do his duty did not spell out “for the United Kingdom,” or for Great Britain. The flags flew the legend “England expects.” To the English, Great Britain is always England. Visitors echo the unconscious misstep. The United Kingdom is “England,” Scotland a secondary country they might fit in for a visit if enough time.

England has a right to its heroes and to their elevation to mythical status but not at the cost of Scotland’s achievers. England is not entitled to demote Scotland.

Incessant carping over the massive success of Braveheart leads to racist smear. The jeering is deafening. “William Wallace was played by an Australian, Mel Gibson, and an pint-sized one at that.” Wallace was almost seven feet tall if we measure him by his sword. These dramatically acceptable interpretations are seen as unforgivable, stupid howler.

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Dialogue lifted from Emerdale Farm

Note this: an Australian played Elizabeth I. Cate Blanchett played the killer of Mary Queen of Scots twice in films so devoid of historical accuracy and full of crappy dialogue as to reduce them to soap.

An Australian, Russell Crowe, played an English sea-captain in the excellent Master and Commander. The film has him running down a dastardly French warship. In actual fact, and in the novel on which the film is based, it was an American ship. England was at war with America at that period in its history, but as it was a film financed by Hollywood, the poor French became the fall guys. Unforgivable factual error? Not really. Creative license more like, and economic diplomacy. Crowe went on to play Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, employing a decidedly iffy north of England accent. But there’s no one to beat Crowe’s brooding intensity when it comes to swashbuckling epics.

In fact, a previous Australian played Robin Hood to success many years earlier, Errol Flynn. In one scene he rides in a hurry passed 20th century pine aforestation. And in another all-American financed epic, Kevin Costner took on the role, the film mustering greater howlers than Braveheart managed. One glaring example was when he sat astride Hadrian’s Wall that, according to the film’s plotting, passes alongside the white cliffs of Dover.

Of those howlers not a word of criticism is heard, certainly none from Scotland’s intelligentsia. Why should there be? The film was very entertaining.

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The Welsh have their day 

English movie history is littered with wild creative licence. That fine military epic, Zulu, chose to depict the regiment stationed at Rorke’s Drift as Welsh infantry, a rather neat way of concentrating attention on Welsh military culture. It is a spirited interpretation. In reality it was the Warwickshire regiment, a company with more English than Welsh. They did not sing “Men of Harlech.” They sang, “A Warwickshire Lad.”

The Zulu “hoards” are shown as noble savages, ooggy-boogy black fellas, as if blood thirsty American Indians of the kind seen in silent films, without individual character. Those creative flaws did not stop it becoming a milestone in British-American film co-operation. But the film is riddled with historical liberties.

And what of England’s greatest actor? When Sir Lawrence Olivier blacked up to play Othello, Prince of Moors – “I am forced to drink my soup through a straw all day” – his performance was held up as great acting. No insult was implied to unemployed African actors. Yet when Mel Gibson plays William Wallace to international success he is pilloried, and that includes farcical expressions of outrage from respected members of the House of Lords. “I cannot bring myself to think of that awful film.”

Remember, no one objected to Gibson the Aussie playing Hamlet in a filmed version set outside Edinburgh. That was Shakespeare, after all.

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Scottish history – safer made as a cartoon

On the subject of indigenous stories, other than Brave, a cartoon set in the Highlands, I cannot recall the last time a Scottish historical drama was produced in the United Kingdom. Go as far back as the 1970s to reach Scottish Television’s lamentable, Flight of the Heron. (It was so bad it was nicknamed in-house, “The Flight of the Herring.”)

Meanwhile, our cinemas and television screens are awash with English historical drama. And though English poke fun at the French as a matter of coarse banter, they think nothing of putting millions of pounds into a series on the three French musketeers. The result is, Scottish literary and dramatic culture is ignored.

Even after the runaway, worldwide success of Braveheart, Scotland’s heroes, particularly our Highland history, is considered “non-commercial.” Which only goes to prove London’s producers know damn all, but they do hold the purse strings to international distribution. That’s where the power lies.

If only the enemies of democracy were honest. It is not what Braveheart does wrong that is objectionable. It is what it stands for that is the real threat.

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9 Responses to Braveheart Shmaveheart

  1. Braveheart is loved on all the continents of the earth especially by the suppressed/persecuted only in UK has it been subjected to the ridicule of lickspittle historians with an agenda to wipe out any wellspring of Scottish culture abetted by half wit journalists and unionist traitors.

  2. “It is not what Braveheart does wrong that is objectionable. It is what it stands for that is the real threat.”

    Yes, but what does it stand for? What does it say about us as a people?

    While I appreciate the point that you are making about English history, you are quite dismissive when it comes to some of our finest historians. I would hardly call Professor Ted Cowan, or Dr Fiona Watson – for example – “obscure academics, funded by unnamed institutions”.

    The issue is not whether ‘the Wallace Myth’ bares any resemblance to the historical fact – in essence the problem is that Wallace represents so much of what we are not – barbaric, bloodthirsty, brutal, viciously Anglophobic and vengeful beyond measure. Blind Harry’s Wallace – the basis of the screenplay- feeds the basest instincts. It extols the ‘virtues’ of violence and hatred. In short, it plays right into the hands of anti-Scottish propagandists – and we know where most of them are, don’t we.

    There are many men – and women – who are far more deserving of the role that the Wallace has held since the 1470s. People of honour, humanity and enlightenment. People who would better represent our cultural sophistication, enlightened thinking and innate humanity. Many of whom have been denigrated and vilified by English ‘historians’ specifically because they represented a far greater threat to the status quo. God forfend that we might be seen as something more than blue-faced, bare-arsed, ignorant teuchters.

    “Braveheart” was – prior to Mr Gibson’s revisionist re-writing of history – always the Bruce, never the Wallace.

    I would hate to be divisive by suggesting one replacement for the Wallace, however, we could do far worse than start with a few like John Napier, Adam Smith (both books mind), David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Thomas Muir, James Clerk Maxwell, John Reid, Elsie Inglis…

    It matters little that the Braveheart film is laughably inaccurate. It dilutes the Declaration of Arbroath – a remarkable document of enlightenment – into little more than a Whitmanesque barbaric yawp.

    We deserve better and should be demanding it loudly – and eloquently!

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    I am dismissive of those who waste time dissecting a piece of fiction for historical accuracy as if historical documentary. A pleasant pastime, but you miss the point, it was exploited to demean a nation. And there were, what you might call pop-up historians, who had not written on a Scottish theme before pontificating at every opportunity. Scottish historians that pointed out flaws were exploited by opponents, used as a stick to beat us. How naïve were they?

    How careful must we be to avoid reactionary anger?

    Are we to subdue all attempts at allegory and symbolism in drama in case we offend the neighbours?

    In an effort to denigrate anything historically sympathetic, even John Prebble was subjected to revisionist history as if out-of-date and irrelevant.

    I await reams of analysis and publications on Wolf Hall, and questions in the House about its authenticity, and endless boredom.

    You mention the Declaration of Arbroath. Getting hung, drawn and quartered means what, exactly, when related to the Magna Carta, of which only two clauses are extant in English law. The rest are ‘ held in respect.?

    Yes, there are other Scottish figures to represent our cultural sophistication, but how can we remedy things when we do not own the means to promote them and their ideas? The work of Adam Smith, for example, has been hijacked and deformed by neo-cons and neo-liberals for decades now, to suit their agenda, until his essential tenets are almost unrecognisable.

    As for characters in ‘Braveheart playing right into the hands of the anti-Scottish;’ opponents show no mercy even when it’s Robert Burns we quote. Their animosity has little to do with William Wallace the warrior as subject matter, everything to do with success being Scottish and applauded. We might get too uppity and need slapped down again.

  4. yesguy says:

    Bravo Grousebeater.

    Braveheart….. 🙂

    What an entertaining read and great repost. Loved the film. Noticed the bridge was missing but humour and script were magic.

    Scots heroes are aplenty. Sadly our kids know little of what this small country has contributed to the world. Even Winston Churchill was supposed to comment that only the ancient Greeks surpassed the Scots contribution. We have every right to be proud of our history. Schools should concentrate on telling our kids .

    The grand old Duke being an Irishman was a hoot. I served a few years with the Dukes of Wellingtons Regiment. Great folk and they knew he was Irish.

    I was told of Scott’s poler expeditions as a school kid many moons ago, but remember Amundson efforts and he won the race. That was taught too.

    Thanks for another cracking read. GB .

  5. yesguy says:

    Oh boy misses the point ….. It’s a Hollywood film that was used against by unionists during the ref.

    But a man fighting for the enemy to leave his lands is a brute or thug. Edward was hardly an angel. Doctors and academics ok fighters.. bad.

    Most folk who want to know the truth can find it easy. You sound like you need a read..

  6. Eilidh says:

    Went to Amundson’s museum in Norway. Really interesting. So enjoyed it.
    enjoyed your post GB.

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    Looked up Amundson’s Fram museum – wonderful purpose built museum. Missed a visit when in Oslo – d’oh!

  8. donald says:

    Braveheart for me is really a means to illustrate an ideal all men and women who are oppressed can relate too. Its how things should be more than how they may have been . People often ask what gives a bankable actor star quality and my reply would be ‘the answer is in the question’.
    They resonate and connect because there is within them a heroic legendary quality . But it often only gets captured on screen when they are in the role . Off camera , they resume human proportions and who can blame them for shying away from the attention.
    We all long for that sense of purpose that raises us up but we dont have the long memory to haunt our voice and eye’s and features .
    Its this connection between the soul of an actor and the story that lends real credibility to the part they play . Connery had it , Russel Crowe has it . They know their part . The question is How ?

    For me that question was answered after long inquiry and the evidence provided was an eye opener to say the least . Cometh the hour ,cometh the man. Again.
    Every face is etched with the memories of the man or woman who carries it. Every mannerism and the unique timbre of their voice . Highlander. Man of destiny.

    Birth certificate’s are no proof of nationality ,they are just bonds that give authority to tax . There is a much deeper source that animates courage and loyalty . The high ground is sought after birth , not before . Longing for what was lost drives the authentic hero , not glory . No matter how far he or she may roam.

    That’s what haunts people who watch Braveheart . Memory.

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