In an attempt to prove it can do anything the non-streaming film companies can do, Outlaw King finds Netflix dipping its toe into the historical epic, with mixed results. The titular Outlaw King is the Scottish Monarch, Robert the Bruce aka Robert the First, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman). The film follows Roberts from his beginnings, surrendering to the English, right through to him leading a rebel army against the men he once sought peace with.
Directed by David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water), Outlaw King looks suitably “epic” when bloody battles break out against the backdrop of the gorgeous Scottish landscape. Equally, the attention to detail is evident in the film’s costumes and overall griminess. Outlaw King may very well be centred on a noble upbringing, but that doesn’t stop it from showing people rutting in the streets whilst Robert and his right-hand man talk exposition, and the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle, Dunkirk) swears to defeat his enemies whilst brandishing two very large and very dead swans. The latter being one of several scenes where the audience is left to think, “Are they just making this up as they go along?”
Certainly, it’s an accusation that gets hurled at historical movies all the time, with the usual think pieces being trodden out as to how factually accurate each one is. It’s completely understandable too when we look at the likes of Braveheart, where Mel Gibson played loose and fast with the facts so much that the strategic Battle of Stirling Bridge was re-enacted without a bridge in sight. Factual inaccuracies also dog Outlaw King, from truncated timelines to making Robert’s bride much older than she was, but that’s not really too much of a problem in terms of cinema. When the finale boils down to Robert and Edward II fighting mano-a-mano, with both armies seemingly stopping to watch the battle royale, you begrudgingly accept it because, hey, it worked for Gladiator.
No, Outlaw King‘s issue isn’t its occasional ignorance of history textbooks; it’s more the problem that when it does attempt to portray accuracy, it actually becomes rather plodding. As Pine conspires with his fellow countrymen to overthrow King Edward I (Stephen Dillane, Game of Thrones) in darkened corridors, the importance is clear, but you may find yourself egging the film to quickly return to indiscriminately letting the blood flow freely.
It certainly doesn’t help that, whilst Pine’s performance is fine, Robert the Bruce, a key figure in Scottish history, is portrayed as being rather dull. A keen strategist in real life, Robert enters the third act of Outlaw King doing everything he can to save the woman he loves. Much more interesting are people like the aforementioned Prince of Wales who comes across as the Outlaw King‘s equivalent of the Joker. Elsewhere, as Robert makes pillow talk with his wife, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh, Lady MacBeth), we have the likes of James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick Ass), also known as Black Douglas, slaughtering the enemy in churches and screaming “what’s my —-ing name?!” on the battle field. It’s never really a good sign when you want to spend more time with the secondary characters than the titular hero.
Epic in scope whilst managing to feel rather trivial in its portrayal, Outlaw King is not an unmitigated flop for Netflix, but it does feel like it’s tried to tick all the boxes of a historical drama without actually adding anything new to the stable. Watch it if for nothing more than Taylor-Johnson’s unhinged performance.
‘Outlaw King’ is currently streaming on Netflix right HERE.