Sometimes, yes, it can be a matter of interpretation. We could
produce a film on Napoleon, for example, in which we either portray
him as a shrewd soldier who rises from obscurity to exploit his
mastery of artillery (the arm then known as "the great god of
war"), seizes a continent and creates an immortal reputation as
a superb military tactician, or we portray him as a minor member
of the Corsican nobility who, sensitive to his low social standing
and lack of physical height, studies political theory, exploits
the teachings of Sun Tzu (then almost unknown in Europe), creates
an immortal reputation as an imperial strategist and pushes his
family onto the thrones of his captured kingdoms. So: Napoleon
as a brilliant soldier, or Napoleon as a hugely successful social
Both are true, of course, and whichever choice the scriptwriter
and director make will be guided by their interpretation of the
But what no scriptwriter can do is to interpret the historical
facts as evidence that Napoleon was a cowardly opportunist who
achieved glory by appropriating the honours earned by others,
that he ren? on his promises to Marshal Ney, and that he was working
with the Russian Tsar to destroy France. No writer can do this,
and no director should do this, because there are no historical
facts on which such an interpretation can be based.
And there are no historical facts on which the portrayal of Robert
the Bruce as a wimp can be based. The screenplay of Gibson's film
invented them, and Gibson, incredibly, allowed them to survive
in his direction.
What, then, are the facts?
The death in 1290 of Margaret, "Maid of Norway", granddaughter
of Alexander III, made the grandfather of Robert the Bruce a claimant
to the empty throne. There were others with as good, or perhaps
not so good, a claim, and it was agreed that Edward I would act
as the judge. Edward recognised the opportunity as one to be exploited
ruthlessly, and Balliol was chosen by him as one who could most
easily be manipulated. The Bruce family swallowed their disappointment,
but not their ambition to win what they believed to be their right.
The father of Robert the Bruce inherited the claim in 1295, and
when Edward I attacked Balliol in 1296, the younger Bruce fought
on the side of Edward because the Bruce family had never recognised
Balliol's right to be King of Scots. The next year he joined Wallace
and continued to make war on the English until 1302. He did not
fight against Wallace at Falkirk, as Gibson's film pretends, and
he was destroying Ayr Castle to deny it to the English only a
few weeks later. In 1302 he made peace with Edward I, partly because
he feared a reconciliation between Balliol and Edward would lose
him both his Annandale lands and the Bruce claim to the throne,
and partly because he judged it prudent to postpone the final
major confrontation until there were better chances of victory.
In 1304 his father (libelled by Gibson as masterminding the betrayal
and capture of Wallace a year later) died, and Robert the Bruce
began the next year the great campaign he was to lead for 23 years.
He was crowned King of Scots in 1306 but was defeated at the battles
of Methven and of Dalry. His wife and daughter were captured by
the English, and his brother Nigel, taken while guarding them,
died like Wallace. Bruce's guerilla war started in 1307, and slowly,
from 1309 onwards, the great castles were captured one by one
until the huge prize of Stirling remained. Bruce's siege of Stirling
in 1314 brought the English to fight at Bannockburn and, as you
rightly wrote, made him "something of a hero of Scottish history".
This was nine years after the death of Wallace.
After Bannockburn, Bruce continued to fight the English, taking
the battle into England and simultaneously waging war on the diplomatic
front. In 1328, twenty-three years after Wallace's death, the
Treaty of Northampton at last gave to Scotland everything for
which Bruce had fought.
Wallace was an inspiring leader, as Gibson obviously wanted to
show. He was a brave guerilla soldier and a shrewd tactician.
The barbaric treatment accorded him by his captors has made him
Bruce, also, was an inspiring leader, a brave guerilla and a shrewd
tactician. Moreover, he was a successful diplomat, an imaginative
strategist, an effective administrator and a much-loved king.
His success as a liberator has made him immortal. He was not a
In brief: the Robert the Bruce of Gibson's film never existed.
He was a fantasy invented for use as a contrast to Wallace, to
enhance the hero's image and thereby to compensate for what Gibson
feared might be his own inability to do Wallace justice. King
Robert I of Scottish history was as different from his namesake
in "Braveheart" as was his dead father from the man who betrayed
Wallace, as was the nine-year-old French girl in Paris from the
unescorted Princess of Wales seducing Wallace in a woodcutter's
hut, as was Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie from the peasant
who claimed to be Wallace's father . . . . . .
"One person's hero is another one's villain."
One man's wimp is another man's failure. That is not "historical
interpretation": that is contemporary evidence.