Netflix’s latest historical drama Outlaw King is a very mixed bag. The film follows the story of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), a 14th century Scottish King, during the build up to a landmark battle in the war for Scotland.
While Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is gorgeous, using spectacular sweeping shots of Scotland, the script remains unoriginal and has pacing issues aplenty. Much of the narrative about an outlaw who forms a small group of men to fight the larger threat was reminiscent of 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, right down to escaping an ambush in a burning forest. This did not, however, save it from being a reminder of that superior film.
Pine delivers a performance as an emotionless Robert the Bruce who seems to feel neither joy nor sadness, robbing the film of any connection to his character. Instead, it is up to the supporting cast to present a watchable movie. The relationship between Bruce and his wife Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) is entertaining, and their arranged marriage and the emotion delivered by Pugh allows some connection to the Bruce figure, but nowhere near enough emotion comes from Pine to feel any investment into their relationship long term. By far the best performance is that of Billy Howe as Edward, Prince of Wales, the young and arrogant Prince who is seen as a failure in his father’s eyes. Howe presents a truly irritating Prince that is reminiscent of Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones, but this is a good thing, as by being this sort of figure, it allows us to root for Pine’s Bruce. Without him, there is very little reason to sympathise with Bruce’s motives, or to care about who wins.
Ultimately, the films biggest downfall is it’s pacing, which builds up to a bloody final battle, but gives us very little to invest in otherwise. Events undoubtedly unfold but no event that takes place feels like something you haven’t seen before in better films. The film begins at the end of one war with England and finishes with the start of another, but apart from a few battle set pieces, the film struggles to make its 121-minute runtime feel worthwhile.
In many ways the film feels like an unsuccessful prequel to the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots, with David Makenzie’s attempt at a true to history portrayal of an Anglo-Scottish war having less interest in its entire runtime than the few trailers that have been released for that film.
Overall, Outlaw King fails to feel like anything other than an amalgamation of better medieval and fantasy dramas, and it is a shame that on this occasion Netflix cannot hold up to the silver screen experience. Let us just hope that Mary Queen of Scots will not have us repeating the words of the English King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) – “I am so sick of Scotland”.
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