- 3 out of 5
The Outlaw King - rest assured - the accents are fine
Rousing historical epic is not something you see on Netflix everyday but this is exactly what director David Mackenzie has brought us.
The film opens in Scotland in 1304, as English King Edward I (Stephen Dillane, aka Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon) forces the Scottish nobility to accept him as their King. After the death of the previous Scottish King, the nobility was heavily divided over who would succeed him and they sought Edward’s counsel. Instead, he used their divisions against them and took the country for himself. Nobles like Robert the Bruce (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) chafe under Edward’s heavy taxes and brutality toward the Scots and almost immediately, they begin planning a rebellion. The resistance of William Wallace (Mel Gibson’s hero character in Braveheart) galvanizes the people and then Robert into action. The rebellion has vicious consequences for his small army almost immediately.
Robert’s gambit is backed by the Scottish Catholic Church since England’s Church is trying to absorb and disenfranchise them. Even Robert’s new wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) winds up supporting the righteousness of his cause. However, many of his fellow nobles tire of war, they have their own agendas for power, or they simply don’t agree with Robert’s personal claim to the throne. Few of them choose to back him, which leaves him fighting a messy, desperate war against Edward’s men — particularly his son Edward II (Billy Howle), who’s struggling to prove himself in the wake of his father’s contempt.
Outlaw King largely plays out in battles and retaliations, in clashes both accidental and carefully planned, and in charges and retreats and recriminations afterward. Apart from the occasional retrenching scene to clarify why the characters are pushing forward in the face of seemingly impossible odds, it’s mostly just one gritty, gory combat after another, right up to a turning point that’s still far from an actual conclusion.
When this film was first notified, the media reaction to the casting of Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce was overwhelming. Mainly because of accents. Critics get hung up on accents these days. I'm pleased to say, there is nothing to worry about. Pine nails it, if a little soft spoken at times. He inhabits Robert and brings a screen presence to what may have been a dull affair.
The other item social media commented on was Pine's full-frontal nudity scene. Well, there’s a short sex scene and a brief moment, as Chris Pine washes the grime off himself in a river after a particularly narrow escape. The moment, a few distant seconds of nudity in an otherwise unremarkable wide shot, has gotten a thoroughly embarrassing amount of attention.
But Outlaw King is an unquestionable 18 rating for the extreme wall-to-wall violence, in which men are hacked apart, gutted alive, speared, stabbed, and sliced in a ghastly profusion of ways. The final battle is a draining clash of bodies — particularly the bodies of horses, who die in vast and grotesque numbers in this film. This is not a family Netflix film.
It is however, another excellent production from Netflix and worthy of your time, even to help your understanding of history.