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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.
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?”
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
20 thoughts on “William Wallace is Seven Feet Tall”
We are playing to the Dependentistas agenda when we allow their sneering to put us off using Wallace as a symbol. They have been successful in this tactic, and it is damaging to us.
I’m sure they are polishing their armoury of sneers for the forthcoming Bruce series too.
Let’s embrace Wallace and Bruce and take the piss out of their sneering like we did with the recent SNP Civil War.
And also make it clear we are not fighting the wars of the past, we’re fighting for the future.
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Personally I loved it! And the sneerers who try to use it as a stick with which to beat the independence movement should be reminded of the ‘heroic’ second world war films made with wondrously plummy accents – ordinary folk not allowed .
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Well yes. Four years since it last pissed me off enough to address it but let’s try again…
Since Unionists are forever poking Braveheart in our face as a pejorative, I thought it time that we took ownership of it and defined it.
BRAVEHEART: A person who subscribes to and espouses Braveheartism.
Braveheartism: Advocates that Scotland’s past is integral to it’s future. That its history and mythology play a key role in the creation and development of the Scottish identity. That it is legitimate for Scots to take pride in the accomplishments of their forebears, including their struggle against an implacable and powerful foe. That Scotland’s mythology and ancient history are the roots of a continuing development that is manifest in and integral to the character of Scotland’s culture and people today.
Recall when before the referendum in 2014, the British State has set aside £50m of taxpayers money to celebrate the centenary of the *commencement* of the Great War? Why would anyone celebrate the start of such a bloody war (later they claimed it was memorialising it, but the initial internal PR memo from 10 Downing St spoke of “celebration”)? Among other things, this seemed deliberately designed to compete with and overshadow the June 2014 anniversary of Bannockburn in the run-up to the referendum.
While promoting their odd remembrance, the Unionists,were at pains to ensure we should forget Bannockburn on its 700th anniversary. Why else have British Armed Forces day celebrations on this day in Stirling?
“It’s seven hundred years since”, we were admonished with mocking tone – “for goodness sake, no one cares!” – It’s not relevant – it’s clownish braveheartism, braveheart, BRAVEHEART!!!
It’s all part of a colonial strategy that has been extant for three centuries. Making those whom you wish to lord it over feel inferior is an effective instrument of control.
There is method to their madness, and I think those of Nationalist persuasion – many among us – have fallen for it. They are sheepishly apologetic and readily agree to demean and dismiss Bravehearts and Braveheatism. We deny “Ourselves” in doing so.
The Unionist “Braveheart gambit” – seeks to denigrate Scotland’s historical fight for freedom against a belligerent neighbour whilst vigorously promoting Britain’s colonial wars and continental wars.
They would have us forget Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge and how the bravery and guile of brave men helped forge this nation and temper our national character.
I call it the Braveheart Gambit because usually the focus of their derision is not really the film about the life of William Wallace, but rather Wallace himself, and the attack on Wallace is a proxy for all of the attacks on Scotland’s historic struggle for independence, its unique culture, and its sense of nationhood.
Mythologies are an essential ingredient of the glue than binds a people and creates a national identity. That is why icons of Union and Empire were paraded endlessly by the broadcast media in London’s Olympic pageant of 2012, and why there has been a concerted effort by the chattering class and the jocktocracy in the Commons, and in the Lords, to delegitimise that phenomenon where Scotland is concerned.
None speaks to the heart of our people like the deeds and the persona of Wallace, and events like Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn, and no Scot should feel embarrassed to embrace that narrative, so shamefully demeaned and ridiculed by Westminster’s pet jocks and their counterparts in Holyrood.
Whatever you self-identify as, carries with it an encyclopaedia’s-worth of historical and cultural defining referential events. They are the very essence of a polity’s sense of itself. They have been used and abused since the dawn of civilization by the unscrupulous to further their nefarious ends, and by visionaries to build nations.
With the inclusion of new peoples from across the globe who have made our ancient home their home, Scotland has a rich and diverse narrative from which to hew an identity, and it is on the cusp of creating a richer one yet. The battles of independence continue to this day and the prize is not yet won.
We can acknowledge and embrace our inner braveheart and celebrate it, or spurn it and cringe. But I would ask you to consider who it is that would have us deny and dissolve the glue that binds us, and why they would have you cringe.
It is they who dismiss and delegitimise national aspiration and scorn the enabling and inspiring notion that tomorrow can be better than today. Their vision and message is that this is as good as it gets. Their only plan is to tell us what we can’t do.
The past determines the present, and the present, the future, and ours awaits.
Of course, this does not mean that anyone will make a decision solely on the basis of ancient history and mythology, but that we should look to the past for an understanding of how we came to be who we are today, in order that we may more fully contextualize the alternatives that confront us in this up-coming referendum, and choose the direction of our tomorrows.
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So true. We are all defined by narrative. This is why Westminster expends so much effort in controlling Scotland’s narrative…leaving only caricatures and stereotypes.
Just think how hard it is to turn a population who’s historical consciousness is overflowing with cultural giants into a people who accepted their stories being shown as subservient to their neighbouring country.
Bravo Christian. I applaud your sentiments. You really need to consider re-starting your blog.
I truely love how many YES are speaking up for the diversity of Scotland’s voices.
If Mike Small (BC) wants to lament, he should be lamenting the lack of Scottish movies. Not pick on the existing ones. It is unfair to ask the few that exist to be all things to all people. No story is that universal. Mike Small’s comment is actually a sign of how brutally the Union has decimated Scotland’s voice…and how suffocating the BBC is to Scotland’s culture.
Lots of people are noting Shakespeare is constantly re-interpreted for new meanings but that is just playing with the text.. If you want to see what Scotland is missing out on you only need to look to the gold medalist of re-telling and mutating their cultural stories – the South Koreans to draw out new ideas – as any K-drama fan will attest.
Scotland is a cinematic treasure trove: Sublimely beautiful, the cradle of people and ideas that changed the world and an exquisitely blunt, brutal but warm way of seeing. I yearn for a day when Scotland develops a flourishing movie industry that tells and re-tells its stories from its perspective.
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While agreeing with the previous comments about this drama, I still have regret that Hollywood found the epic historical truth inadequate as a framework to write human stories consistent with facts and instead had to embellish it with mad fantastic nonsense. It is ever thus.
Anything that annoys a British Nationalist is fine by me , these people are never going to support independence they are doing quite well thank you very much, so a bit of fun winding the buggers up yeh bring it on as Wendy was so fond of saying .
Excellent comments – particularly Christian_Wright.
If I am ever called a braveheart I usually retort rather that than a darkheart.
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I think a better answer is “better a Braveheart than a Faintheart”
Well, he is going to spit bullets when the Outlaw King comes via Netflix, Possibly next month ( not IF the Tories can stop it. According to Canadian reviews ( I do not trust those from London, like everything else!) It shows the English in a very bad light. One said that if this had been shown before the 2014 Indy vote, it may have ended up in a very different way.
I am looking forward to it, it is on an epic scale.
So Small will most likely make that replace his dislike for Braveheart with this one. The Yoons will shout SNP bad, we will just laugh at them, a good thing.
Very good timing also.
A wonderful film but knowing how they murdered Wallace in London, I could not watch the final half hour.
It seems, however, that now we’re being encouraged by Britnats to laugh at it. NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!!
Yes I agree. It was a work of fiction, but at its heart there was a truth, a very important and influential truth. I watched it when it first came out in the massive Leicester Square Odeon, with many tourists, and I imagine a good percentage of English people, and the audience was moved to applaud at the end. Is it any more a fiction than the many heroic British war films that pleased and moved audiences during WWII and later?
As one who has more claim than most to comment on The Wallace, being a direct descendent and all (wha’d’ya mean The Wallace didn’t have any children? I’m talking about my dad, William. He was definitely ‘a’ Wallace even if not ‘the’ Wallace), I have to say this is a superb article, Jason, & one that cuts to the heart of the problem. Scotland needs its independence from England but it also needs to radically rethink its relationship with those Scots who believe they have, by birth or education or whatever other reason, the right to rule the rest of us. So many of the iniquities if the English colonial rule were carried out by our fellow Scots who, in the interests of their personal power & wealth, chose to oppress other Scots.
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Great article . Started with the opinion that showing Braveheart was not a clever move.
By the end, the rationale of the stultifying middle class mind set and presenting the suffering and untold history of the ordinary people of Scotland , I really think there is a place for showing Braveheart as part of Saturday’s Demo .
I have always enjoyed this movie, even after quickly recognising how Hollywood messed with the time etc, for me it had the sentiment correct and I believe what really made the movie was the role of the ordinary people in it
The important message about Wallace is that while the High Heid Yins were busy selling out Scotland, he lead a revolt that ultimately lead to the dispossession of an oppressive occupation force.
It’s up to us to do the same again.
I never understood the derision that decades later tarnished the enjoyment of this film. It is, an inspirational love story, not a BBC documentary, as you’ve said. My son was a teenager, and I remember this kid, who rarely cried, tearing up. Yes. Inspirational. I remember the roars of approval, and the sobs, in the theatre. 23 years ago, what else was there that united people behind the concept of a free Scotland?