The film, Braveheart, is an essential weapon in the arsenal of unionist derision. 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 Scotland-baters. They take Wallace’s legacy apart – second death sentence – hung, drawn, quartered and defiled.
The only thing the ignorant miss is Wallace sported a full beard. Mel Gibson plays Wallace as the only man in Scotland who owns a razor.
A common, utterly spurious criticism is, it contains factual errors. Good. Drama is not documentary. 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.
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 said, “Tell people I carried on playing.”
His stoicism perpetuates the myth of the Englishman’s phlegmatic attitude in the face of intimidating forces. I would rather know he froze in shock. That’s 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? It was Hoby who dubbed them the Wellington, a smart selling ploy.
And on the subject of mythologizing national heroes …
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. 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.
A wink is as good as a nod
No Scottish historian draws attention to the risible myth of Lord Nelson’s final words, the apocryphal, “Kiss me, Hardy.” Oil paintings depicting his death are given a beatific treatment, part and parcel of a nation’s embellishment of great achievement in extremis. Of course, not much is said of how badly Nelson treated his wife while having that affair with Lady Hamilton. Some things should not be spoken of.
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 setback or difficulty. 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.)
Five of the ships under Nelson’s command were captained by Scots but it’s depicted as 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: “England expects.”
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.
Aussies playing Brits – never!
An Australian played Elizabeth I twice – Cate Blanchett. The films are so devoid of historical accuracy and filled with 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. It’s called commercial necessity.
There’s no one to beat Crowe’s brooding intensity when it comes to swashbuckling epics. He went on to play Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, with an iffy north of England accent.
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 a great flub when he sits astride Hadrian’s Wall that, according to the film’s plotting, passes alongside the white cliffs of Dover.
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.
Remember, no one objected to Gibson the Aussie playing Hamlet in a filmed version set outside Edinburgh. That was Shakespeare, after all.
“I cannot bring myself to think of that awful film,” uttered some half-dead earl in the House of Lords. Unlike William Wallace, no one can recall his name. And if that isn’t enough to have colonial fools choke on their cream teas, a film is planned on King Robert the Bruce. And there’s another on Mary Queen of Scots.
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.