Angus Macfadyen played Robert the Bruce, a Scottish nobleman, whom William Wallace (Mel Gibson) sought to join the cause of Scottish freedom, in the Oscar-winning 1995 film Braveheart.
Robert became King of Scotland and led the Scots to freedom from England after the events of Braveheart.
For the past 20 years, Macfadyen has been trying to tell that story. Macfadyen co-wrote Robert the Bruce with Eric Belgau, and it’s on video-on-demand and digital platforms Friday. After discussing the project for years, they prepared a first draft in 2006.
“We had a big-budget Hollywood-style movie that was going to cost a lot of millions and couldn’t raise the money for that,” Macfadyen told UPI in a phone interview. “I wasn’t considered some kind of a box office movie star, so [a studio] can’t drop $65 million on a film like that.”
While Macfadyen and Belgau were rewriting their script to reduce the cost, another Robert the Bruce movie came out. Netflix released Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, in 2018.
“Funnily enough, that actually helped,” Macfadyen said. “If there could be one, there could be two because there was interest.”
Hollywood has a history of releasing two similar movies around the same time, such as volcano movies Dante’s Peak and Volcano, asteroid movies Deep Impact and Armageddon, animated bug movies Antz and A Bug’s Life, and even two Truman Capote biopics with Capote and Infamous. Macfadyen leveraged Outlaw King to his advantage.
“It allowed me, as the original Robert the Bruce, to go, ‘Well, I’m not dead and buried in the ground yet, so we can tell this version.'” MacFadyen said. “I have Outlaw King to thank in some way.”
In rewriting his Robert the Bruce, Macfadyen focused on a point at which Robert the Bruce loses a battle against England’s forces. The King of England places a bounty on Robert the Bruce and even some Scots turn against him.
Robert spends the movie healing at a farm that belongs to a widow (Anna Hutchison) and her children (Talitha Bateman, Gabriel Bateman, Emma Kenney). The patriarch and older brothers of the family died in battle with Wallace.
“As a result, the story actually became about the consequences of war, violence and death, but also became a far more intimate and terrifying story,” Macfadyen said. “It culminates in sort of a High Noon-type story. The battle-hardened men who are hunting down Robert the Bruce are going to find him.”
Macfadyen’s passion for Robert the Bruce predates his involvement in Braveheart. Growing up in Scotland, he heard the stories of Robert the Bruce. When Gibson, who won an Oscar for directing Braveheart, was casting the film, he’d originally offered Macfadyen the role of Edward II.
“I actually, rather arrogantly, refused to audition,” Macfadyen said. “[I] went in and met Mel Gibson and on the spot said, ‘I’m not here to talk about that role. Robert the Bruce is my role.’ I knew that it had already been offered to another actor, yet I still went in and fought for that role.”
The other actor, whom Macfadyen would not name, was holding out for a role in Rob Roy, another Scottish historical epic released just one month before Braveheart in 1995. That role ultimately went to Tim Roth. Meanwhile, Macfadyen landed his dream role.
Macfadyen did not consider asking Gibson to direct the follow-up. Richard Gray directed Robert the Bruce.
“We didn’t want the ghost of William Wallace showing up,” Macfadyen said. “It’s not really a sequel, either. It’s its own story. It’s not a film that glorifies war. It’s a film that observes consequences of the violence of it. It’s an anti-war film really.”
Braveheart depicted the brutality of war and the atrocities the Scots were fighting against. However, Macfadyen became concerned the movie glorified violence with its epic battle scenes.
“That’s always what happens when you make a really great fight scene,” Macfadyen said. “On some level, it does glorify it.”
Robert the Bruce still springs into action in Macfadyen’s movie. He fights enemies one-on-one, as opposed to Braveheart’s hundreds of soldiers in battle. Macfadyen had to train for the film’s fight scenes.
“I showed up six weeks early and we were shooting in Montana,” Macfadyen said. “So I started training at altitude for about four, five weeks before we shot to get into shape to do what we had to do. I was glad I did because that was one of the toughest shoots ever working in the cold like that.”
Macfadyen also learned on Braveheart that he needs more time to train. It only took one day to injure himself on that film.
“I was throwing the big broadsword around my head for a couple of hours,” Macfadyen said. “Then I went horse riding the same day. Then I was laid up in bed for a week and I couldn’t move because my entire neck had gone out from overdoing that one exercise. That was the extent of my training on Braveheart.”
Macfadyen still hopes to make one more Robert the Bruce movie. He hasn’t forgotten about the original 2006 script that originally covered more historical ground. He still wants to tell the rest of Robert’s story.
“I have it ready to go,” Macfadyen said. “If this does well and I can raise the money, I have the other script ready to do. I have one more in me. If I wait too much longer, I’ll be too old to play the role.”
Macfadyen continues his new career as a writer, too. His next film is an adaptation of Macbeth.
“I had a great co-writer on that whose name is William Shakespeare, or Bill as I like to call him,” he joked.