Netflix is known for its range of content available for streaming worldwide. Home to a number of innovative originals, Netflix has also become infamous for its contribution to certain genres. One of those is the platform’s selection of period pieces. Series like Bridgerton and The Crown have taken the world by storm, but there are a number of movies that deserve the same recognition.
Outlaw King tells the true story of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Directed by David Mackenzie, the film stars a number of Hollywood stars including Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Howle, and Stephen Dillane. In comparison to Braveheart, which has been heavily criticized for its lack of historical accuracy, Outlaw King stacks up a bit better. While it may not be entirely historically sound, Outlaw King has more working for it than against it.
As a well-known Scottish warrior, any film that features Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, should contain a number of thrilling battles. Leading the fight for Scottish independence against England, Outlaw King has many historical elements to cover in two hours. The battle scenes and tension between rulers may sound familiar to Game of Thrones fans. In fact, fans of the HBO series will recognize King Edward I (Dillane) as Stannis Baratheon.
Prior to the final season of Game of Thrones, the HBO series was well celebrated for its storytelling, complex characters, and the extensiveness of its fight sequences. While they were a valued part of the show, the fight sequences were not without criticism. In the heavily anticipated episode, “The Long Night,” many complained that the scenes were far too dark to be able to decipher what was happening. Compared to the bright “Battle of the Bastards” sequence, “The Long Night” didn’t meet the expectations of many fans.
Outlaw King may not have the same resources as Game of Thrones, but its fight sequences certainly give the HBO series a run for its money. Outlaw King has a fair number of both small and large-scale battles. One of the first noteworthy battles is an ambush scene that occurs at night. With plans to battle Aymer de Valence the following morning, Bruce and his men set up camp. Bruce previously killed Valence’s brother-in-law John Comyn after he threatened to tell the King of Bruce’s plan to seize the throne. Leaving Valence’s sister a widow, he finds himself with a growing desire to put an end to Bruce’s pursuits and decides to ambush his camp.
The ambush, despite taking place at night, is very well lit. The additional lighting provided by the burning campfires and flaming arrows shot into the air within the ambush itself, certainly makes it seem as if Game of Thrones could’ve used a few lessons on how to make their nightly battle easier to be seen. Complete with men being cut down, galloping horses, and men fleeing for their lives, the scene has all the major components of a successful battle sequence.
Outlaw King’s next impressive battle takes place in the water. Leaving his wife and daughter in the hands of his brother and a trusted ally, Bruce sets off with what remains of his men to Islay. Before they can get there, the men are attacked and narrowly escape. The battle is impressive to watch with men using their swords both in the water and on land. This battle doesn’t end without a major casualty. Bruce’s brother, Alex, is speared in the chest and the men are forced to throw his body overboard to fit others onto the boats.
While Bruce is the focus of these fight scenes, James Douglas (Taylor-Johnson) steals the show. Frequently shouting “Douglas!” to enemies on the battlefield to ensure they remember his family’s name, he’s a compelling character beside Pine’s stoic Bruce. Sometimes referred to as “the Black Douglas,” he pledged to fight for Bruce’s efforts to liberate Scotland. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of screentime in Outlaw King, it is more than enough to prove that Douglas was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.
There are a series of smaller battles that follow the group’s time in Islay. Bruce, Douglas, and a few other allies work to seize control of various castles throughout Scotland, often burning them down afterward. This all leads up to the final battle of the film, where Bruce finally comes face to face with the Prince of Wales (Howle). Early in Outlaw King, the tension between Bruce and the Prince is reduced to a childhood rivalry where Bruce always came out on top. Combined with the Prince’s inability to please his father, the Prince’s anger supersedes his rationality on the battlefield.
With fight sequences, the emphasis is most often on the choreography or the effects used to make them appear much more dramatic. Fortunately, Outlaw King doesn’t try to be overly flashy and the fights feel much more authentic. One fascinating part of Outlaw King’s final battle is watching Bruce and his men use the land to their advantage. Bruce tells his men that even though the English took control of Scottish land, they don’t know anything about it. Forcing the battle to happen on the land Bruce and his men have become familiar with, they rig the land further in their favor. Embellished with wooden spikes, trenches, and a water source deep enough to trap the English and their horses, it’s clear the Scots will come out on top before the fight even begins.
For fans of history, period pieces, intense battles, or solid acting, Outlaw King is full of surprises. The filmmaking is beautifully crafted on its own and the story is nothing short of inspiring. Filled with romance, gore, and action-packed sequences, there is something for everyone to value.
Outlaw King is now streaming on Netflix.
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