Before you get too worked up about California’s Chris Pine playing Scottish hero Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King, director David Mackenzie would like to remind you that in the 14th century nobody sounded like the Scots of today.
“The slightly absurd thing … is that 700 years ago they would not have spoken in anything like a contemporary Scottish accent, even a genericized one,” he says. “They would have been speaking in French most of the time, and writing in Latin. We did have Pine singing in Latin, which I was pleased about. So the accents are all fictional in a way.”
Mackenzie, a Scot himself, is speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Outlaw King had its world premiere as the opening-night film. It’s back at Toronto’s Lightbox on Nov. 9 as part of a limited theatrical run, though most viewers will probably see it on Netflix, which releases it the same day.
“The vast majority of my films unfortunately have not had massive theatrical windows,” says Mackenzie, whose most recognized movie is 2016’s Hell or High Water, which was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. “So people who do see them tended to see them back in the DVD days on DVDs, and on streaming services now.”
Pine also starred in Hell or High Water, which convinced Mackenzie that he could carry the part of Robert the Bruce. “Chris is somebody who can handle the complexities of somebody who’s torn, divided, uncertain, fragile – all the qualities that I needed for the character to be. And I needed a movie star to carry the movie. I’m very happy with the way that he’s taken this complex hero and not done obvious things.”
Pine’s soft burr in the movie was based on a Scottish rugby captain, says the director. “He was from a grand family and had a voice of leadership.” The American actor watched YouTube videos of the man to perfect his enunciation.
Mackenzie was keen to film as much as possible in the actual places depicted in the film. “It was all shot in Scotland, according to the borders of 1306,” he says proudly, but those last few words need some unpacking.
Seems the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where some filming was done, was disputed territory for many years. Ceded to England’s King Henry II in 1173, it was later sold back to Scotland to fund the Third Crusade. It changed hands several more times over the centuries, until England managed to consolidate its hold in 1482. It is now England’s northernmost town, 4 km from the Scottish border. But in 1306 it was Scottish land.
Mackenzie doesn’t strike one as an ardent nationalist, but there’s pride in his voice when he discusses the “personal resonance” of a story that most filmgoers know only through Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart, which featured Angus Macfadyen as the Bruce, and has been widely criticized for taking liberties with history. A 2009 story in London’s Sunday Times listed Braveheart as one of the 10 most historically inaccurate movies ever, alongside Gibson’s Apocalypto and The Patriot.
“I’ve been allowed to be quite historically accurate and make an epic and entertaining movie at the same time,” Mackenzie says. “I don’t think many people follow history as closely as we did and still produce entertaining material. So that was the ambition of it. And that means a lot to me.”
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