Outlaw King reimagines tribal history, bares Pine’s parts

New on Netflix/Movie Review: Outlaw King

Chris Pine plays national folk hero Robert the Bruce in David Mackenzie’s blood sausage of a costume epic that rewrites a few historical details to serve its dramatic cause, and quench our thirst for more Game of Thrones.

Outlaw King

3.5/5

Starring: Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Howle, Stephen Dillane

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Running time: 2hrs 1min

Rating: Restricted

Debuting on Netflix November 9

By Katherine Monk

Like Game of Thrones? Then you’re the red-painted circle on that Medieval hay bale: the target of long-bow archers on Madison Avenue and Axe-wielding campaigns for personal hygiene. There’s no point hiding from destiny. Winter is coming, and so are the furry costume dramas looking to light a fire in our tribal hearts.

Outlaw King has pretty much everything GoT fans have come to expect: bloody wars, conspiring frenemies, and the ruthless pursuit of power interlaced with bodice-ripping titillation. Only this time, much of it actually happened: Robert the Bruce was a real man who lived from 1274 to 1329, but is lionized to this day as emancipator of Scotland. Robert the Bruce is a national hero for the Scots, and as such, remains a ghostly threat to a United Kingdom. Fortunately for the already overladen Theresa May, the chances of Hollywood actor Chris Pine arousing a nationalist, separatist sentiment on Netflix are small, but like so many things in this movie, they’re still bigger than you’d think.

Outlaw King has pretty much everything GoT fans have come to expect: bloody wars, conspiring frenemies, and the ruthless pursuit of power interlaced with bodice-ripping titillation. Only this time, much of it actually happened…

That’s not a direct reference to Chris Pine’s penis, which was visible and very much noted in the Outlaw King’s Toronto International Film Festival’s opening night debut. The truth is, some of Mr. Pine’s member may now be on the cutting room floor. Producers recut scenes in Outlaw King for its streaming debut, which means it’s shorter overall — but still undeniably grand in scope.

The movie was shot on location, features reconstructed castles, trebuchets and an entire caravan of cavalry. Everything on screen feels authentic, from the fine lace and fabrics, to the armour, steel blades and grotesque violence.

The plot is about the only thing that feels contrived, and a little bit of historical fact-checking reveals the writers did indulge in some creative licence in order to facilitate a showdown between Robert the Bruce and his notable enemy, the son of Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).

The plot is about the only thing that feels contrived, and a little bit of historical fact-checking reveals the writers did indulge in some creative licence in order to facilitate a showdown between Robert the Bruce and his notable enemy, the son of Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).

Enraged by Robert the Bruce’s insurrection after entering into a peace accord with British occupiers, the Prince of Wales seeks to crush Robert the Bruce and his band of rogue militia. He needs to punish the rebel for killing another lord, as well as reneging on a treaty, but from the moment this movie begins in the mud of a forced truce, we’re taught to see Robert as a revolutionary hero.

He is proud, he is handsome and he refuses to fear his enemy. Even when he’s delivered a new queen (Florence Pugh) as part of a political deal, he doesn’t assert his power over her — choosing instead to let her come to him as a willing partner.

There’s something almost Disney-esque about the courtship. It’s all so prim and proper and, frankly, unbelievably romantic. Relative newcomer Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth, The Commuter) has a flavour-of-the-month look with her big blue eyes, freckled complexion, and pouffy, pouty lips, but her energy is anything but generic.

There’s something almost Disney-esque about the courtship. It’s all so prim and proper and, frankly, unbelievably romantic. Relative newcomer Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth, The Commuter) has a flavour-of-the-month look with her big blue eyes, freckled complexion, and pouffy, pouty lips, but her energy is anything but generic.

The woman is what you’d call “feisty” if that word didn’t have female baggage and tacit connotations of butch bitchiness. Pugh’s take on Elizabeth de Burgh, the wife to Robert The Bruce is memorable and potent, despite a rather anemic pen on the part. On the page, she’s really little more than window dressing for Pine’s frame, but Pugh brings dimensions to even the flattest scenarios to become more than a damsel in distress.

She’s the one character we truly care about because she’s most like us: concerned with everyday kindness and being good rather than epic battles between bitter kings and resentful lords.

Her genuine morality puts her at risk in this back-stabbing, power-hungry landscape because it seems everyone else, including Robert, is out for himself, eager to grasp whatever orb, sceptre or slice of power is in reach.

It’s an ugly, gory world. Yet, because we’re all calloused veterans thanks to George R.R. Martin’s saga of souls sacrificed in pursuit of the Iron Throne, even the most jarring and bloody parts of Outlaw King feel acceptable, from battlefield decapitation to bludgeoning, and every stab, lance and mace-in-the-face in between.

There’s a perverse pleasure in seeing our ancient tribal history reanimated and re-imagined, especially for a cable audience. The insinuation of moral purity can be cast aside, replaced by a House of Cards understanding of political strategy, and a GoT obsession with hot sex as the central, and authentically period, form of entertainment.

There’s a perverse pleasure in seeing our ancient tribal history reanimated and re-imagined, especially for a cable audience. The insinuation of moral purity can be cast aside, replaced by a House of Cards understanding of political strategy, and a GoT obsession with hot sex as the central, and authentically period, form of entertainment.

For the modern mind, so addled by overloads of information, watching these stripped-down versions of ourselves struggling to keep their heads — literally — feels like mental skinny dipping. We can ditch the fear and clothing of social identity, and wander into a stream of consciousness through character.

Again, this isn’t a direct reference to Chris Pine’s penis, but it lends symbolic resonance to his nude scene — which, otherwise, feels entirely random. The rest is almost mechanical, as director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) leads us on the war path against the English, rounding up potential partners along the way.

For the modern mind, so addled by overloads of information, watching these stripped-down versions of ourselves struggling to keep their heads — literally — feels like mental skinny dipping. We can ditch the fear and clothing of social identity, and wander into a stream of consciousness through character.

Because Robert the Bruce did defeat the King’s army, with all its men, there’s a “David and Goliath” angle as well as a “getting the band back together” narrative lilt. Pine always feels a bit like Captain Kirk with a Scottish accent, checking out the terrain, looking for a natural advantage. For me, however, that was just the buttery coating on an already puffy pastry stuffed with Scottish meat. Outlaw King: It’s a savoury pie for the eyes, with, or without, Chris Pine’s penis.

@katherinemonk

Main photo: Credit David Eustace, courtesy of Netflix.
THE EX-PRESS, November 9, 2018

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Review: Outlaw King

User Rating

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Summary

3.5Score

Outlaw King has pretty much everything GoT fans have come to expect: bloody wars, conspiring frenemies, and the ruthless pursuit of power interlaced with bodice-ripping titillation. The plot is about the only thing that feels contrived, and a little bit of historical fact-checking reveals the writers did indulge in some creative licence in order to facilitate a showdown between Robert the Bruce and his notable enemy, the son of Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle). Director David Mackenzie delivers the entertainment, Chris Pine delivers the Captain Kirk-styled hero, willing to risk and innovate to win the day. -- Katherine Monk

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