Beginning in 1303 with Bruce (Pine) and other Scottish noblemen begrudgingly pledging allegiance to Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane). As days and months Bruce and his countrymen become less and less tolerant of English rule, bristling at paying taxes to a king who does nothing for them. Taking his rightful crown as King of Scotland, Bruce puts his wife (Florence Pugh) and child (Josie O’Brien) into hiding and cobbles together a small rag tag army, including his two bravest warriors Angus Macdonald (Tony Curran) and James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to fight for Scottish Independence against the dictatorial King and his hot-blooded son, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).
“Outlaw King” is a historical epic that feels both modern and intimate. Director David Mackenzie doesn’t spare the spectacle—at one point early on Edward announces, “Friends, join us. We have a spectacle!”—but he makes sure to infuse the story with character building moments and personal details to give us a sense of who Bruce is beyond an expert in carnage. Pine humanizes the great warrior, placing him in the context of a family man who risks everything to forward his cause.
The humanity on display in “Outlaw King” is all well and good but it is the battle scenes you’ll remember. An orgy of blood and broken bones, they are up-close-and-personal, not-for-the-weak-of-stomach. Also, horse lovers beware. They are visceral, realistic and fulfill the early promise of spectacle.