Film Review: Outlaw King

David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King is a solid historical action drama. The film boasts good performances and production values. 

In 1304, King Edward’s army has triumphed in Scotland, and has forced Scottish lords to pledge their allegiance to the English king. Robert the Bruce decides to fight back against English rule, but he is vastly outnumbered…

Director and co-writer David Mackenzie re-teams with Chris Pine for his latest picture. Outlaw King tells the story of Robert the Bruce and his strike back against English reign in Scotland. The film focuses on a specific period in British history rather than taking a biopic approach.

The film begins with the pledge of fealty to King Edward. This sequence is a good introduction to the main players in the film, as well as introducing the arranged marriage between Robert and Elizabeth. Even those unfamiliar with the history will understand this truce will not last for long. The narrative unfolds from here, charting the protagonist’s attempts to rouse support among his countrymen as attempts to take Scotland back.

The protagonist is depicted in a wholly positive light. He is a hero to root for. Mackenzie does not shy away from the sacrifices others have to make for his cause. Yet there is always a nobility in this, and indeed in any acts that Robert has to carry out. He is depicted as a man of the people, not afraid to get his hands dirty by pitching in. Outlaw King ensures there is no ambiguity about the protagonist at all. When facing such an upstanding man, it is unsurprising that the villains have similar one-dimensional portrayals. There are no shades of grey in the film.

The film sags a little after the initial rebellion. Nevertheless, it recovers sufficiently to provide an exciting conclusion. The battle sequences are well executed; Mackenzie is happy to depict the gore and grime of the fight. The production values are good overall, particularly the sets and costumes. 

Chris Pine offers a decent performance as Robert; his accent is fine to non-Scottish ears. Florence Pugh is given a little more to do than simply play the damsel in distress; even if she is not stretched by the role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stands out among the supporting cast, thanks to his energy. 

Outlaw King is unlikely to win any awards, but its job perfectly well.

Outlaw King is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018. 

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