It’s not often that a gritty retelling of a historical conflict is sold as one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It’s also unusual that said movie does so well with audiences, and fairly poorly with critics. That’s what’s happened with Netflix’s newest release, Outlaw King. However, who is right – is this movie actually worth the time, or should you binge-watch another series instead?
Outlaw King follows Robert Bruce (Chris Pine) as he revolts against the English King Edward (Stephen Dillane) for control over Scotland.
It’s a pretty straightforward idea. Two fighting countries, one the underdog, one the most powerful country in the world. Director David Mackenzie (Hell Or High Water) had a smorgasbord of plot to play with, and unfortunately, not a lot of running time. The movie is unnervingly fast paced, but then seems to linger too long in certain places unnecessarily. It’s both fast and slow, which is confusing, but at least keeps you on your toes.
Chris Pine plays King of the Scots, Robert the Bruce, and he does so with many long-winded stares and a frightening lack of emotion. It’s definitely plausible that his deadpan face was used as a mask to hide how Robert was feeling on the inside, but unfortunately, the audience can’t see inside his head.
As monotonous as Pine’s portrayal could be, he had a jolly good stab at a Scottish accent. He had the odd slip-up where he reverted back to full Yank, but Scottish is a hard accent to pull off in the first place.
It’s a mystery as to why an actual Scottish actor wasn’t hired to play a Scottish leader, but it’s typical of Hollywood to want to Americanise history in some way. Despite this, Chris Pine actually fits the role quite well, and does a pretty good job of bringing the outlaw king to life.
Now, let’s get to the interesting stuff: the baddie. Representing all of 14th century England is King Edward I (Stephen Dillane), and his son Edward II. They’re vicious, bloodthirsty and power hungry: a combination that doesn’t really work out that well for the Scots.
Dillane manages to give King Edward an air of regality as well as supreme arrogance, which really compliment each other quite nicely. As well has his previous experience playing a King (Dillane played Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones), it’s obvious that he was well and truly suited to this role, and his rivalry with Robert is behemoth.
Edward II, however, is a new type of cretin. He’s slimy, spoilt and stubborn, as well as having every single other horrible trait that his father had. His mercilessness is tough to watch if you’ve a sensitive stomach, and it’s worth bearing in mind that he is basically the Joffrey of actual English history.
However, this is exactly what this character should have been. He’s evil, but he needs to be. The combination of Robert’s portrayal as (almost) angelic, in contrast with just how awful Edward is, shows the audience that there is a clear divide and a clear side to be on.
Granted, it wasn’t actually that simple in real life – this movie barely touches on the struggle that the Scots endured – but it gives a general gist of just how vile the English actually were.
Outlaw King is brilliantly acted, what lets it down is its writing. It comes across as rushed, without much care for allowing for character development. This leaves you unbothered about rooting for Robert, instead leaving the audience with a mild fondness for him. As good as the material is, it doesn’t evoke enough emotion for the story to linger.
There might be a few parts where you get a bit teary, but nothing unbearably sad. It’s all a bit bland. The final fight scene is rousing, but it’s not the spectacle it was intended to be. It’s almost there, but not quite.
As good a tale as this is, it might be worth you picking up a history book instead of this movie. It’s entertaining and a good two hours of distraction, but it takes a lot of concentration. The short running time means a lot is squeezed in, and not a lot is explained.
If you fancy a historical drama, this is a good bet. But don’t expect to be dipping in and out; Outlaw King requires all of your attention at all times. If you can get past that – you’ll definitely enjoy it.