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By Jason Michael
IT’S AN UNSPOKEN RULE in the movement that we don’t mention Braveheart. Well, when we say “unspoken rule” what we mean is we have constant whining reminders from Mike Small at Bella Caledonia not to mention Braveheart. Apparently it’s historically inaccurate, cringe-worthy, and embarrassing. But we’re just going to go ahead and break that rule. I find, as a general rule of thumb, that it’s best to break all of the rules laid down by Mike Small; he comes across – never having met the man, mind – as a man who wasn’t hugged enough as a child, and who wastes his evenings downing cans and getting angry on Twitter that the great Scottish revolution isn’t going his way. His opinions on movies should be ignored the same way he and his blog are ignored. Today, we’re going to talk about Braveheart.
Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic, no matter what we think of Gibson himself, is a brilliant film. Like everyone else of a certain age, I sat in a crowded cinema – the “auld pictures” in Kilmarnock – and laughed and wept my way through it. With everyone, I roared with delight at the end when Hamish chucked his sword. We left the pictures geared up for a fight but settled for a cheeky burger at Mickey Macs before catching the bus home. It was the film of a whole Scottish generation, and, regardless of the dubious history, it gave us a language about Scottish independence before devolution and the great political awakening it would bring about. In a town like Kilmarnock, rated at the time as one of the crappiest towns in the UK, we had hee-haw to be proud of, but Mel Gibson and his stupid accent gave us a wee glimmer of hope.
@craigthepict Certainly playing Braveheart is the epitome of a directionless incoherent self-defeating mess—
Bella Caledonia (@bellacaledonia) September 11, 2018
Yet, somehow the self-proclaimed cultural leadership of Scotland now wants to rubbish everything about it. It’s rank hypocrisy, of course. The first time they watched it they loved it. Private school, the gap year, university, and one too many lattes have turned them into the sorts of people who imagine a good sneer is a leadership skill. We meet these people everywhere in life. While training for ministry I was taught such lovely middle-class aphorisms as: “You don’t have to live like a rat to know a rat” and “Never use their toilets” – class-antagonistic wisdom on dealing with “common people.”
Out in the real world it soon struck me that this was why the Church is dying on its feet, why “common people” have given up on politics and traditional authority. More recently, it has become clear this is why “angry white men” are voting for demagogues like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Ordinary people are sick and tired of the sneering, and it’s rather amusing that this is one of the central themes of Braveheart. The heart of the film isn’t the fight for independence from Edward Longshanks. This is merely the background to the story. What the film does from beginning to end is interrogate the nature of class division in Scotland, or, as Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) puts it: “…they couldn’t agree on the colour o’ shite.”
There are those in Scotland who think it their God-given right to lead. They come to this conclusion because of the privilege into which they were born, the comfort and support they had growing up, and what their over-paid headmasters told them. Yet, for all its failings, Braveheart identifies this and makes William Wallace a common man, fighting for the things that matter most to common people, and inspiring the love and devotion of common soldiers. He asks Robert Bruce, a symbol of privilege: “And the common man who bleeds on the battlefield, does he risk less?”
Don’t really get knocking Braveheart. Mel Gibson risked millions telling an epic Scottish story when nobody else co… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Phantom Power (@PhantomPower14) September 11, 2018
This “common man” was never in the original chronicles of the Scottish Wars of Independence. History was written by the elite for the benefit of the elite, it never had the common man and woman in mind – they were always unimportant. The medieval chroniclers went into lurid detail when describing the deaths of knights on the battlefield, they seldom mentioned the village women who were raped and murdered or the peasant farmers conscripted as archer fodder. In fact, from then until very recently history was all about writing common people out of the story of their own nations – the land they fought and died for.
Say what you like about Braveheart, at a time when we were taught next to nothing about Scottish history in our own schools it put the common people of Scotland’s past right at the very heart of our national story. The veterans on the field were given lines, we saw the pain and intimacy of the couple’s wedding disrupted by the English Lord, the love of Elder Stewart for Hamish his son, and the affable if utterly mad Irishman Stephen. It was their Scotland we were rooting for because that was our Scotland. It’s hard to know the rats when the poll tax isn’t taking food from your table, or expect clean toilets when dad has upped and left and mum is drunk. You can sneer at Braveheart only when you’ve never felt that independence might be your only chance.
Besides all this, Braveheart is only a film. It was never intended to be a documentary, it is truth without being fact – a story. And like every good story it lifted those who needed lifting and has no doubt done more for the cause of independence in Scotland than this blog, Bella Caledonia, CommonSpace, and all the rest combined. Those who love to sneer at it may want independence, but what Braveheart did – by accident or by design – was to embolden the hearts of those of us who really need independence. So, to the sneerers – Shut up! And to the rest – Sit down and enjoy the show!
Braveheart: William Wallace Freedom Speech