Whether it’s fact or fiction, Scottish history is being given the Hollywood treatment once again to tell a story that we can still learn from today.
Words by Colin Armstrong
When it comes to Scottish history, big screen adaptations have not always been historically accurate.
In 1995, Braveheart followed the life of William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, but despite winning five Academy Awards, the story depicted on-screen of a patriotic and charming rogue was far removed from the truth.
Fans of the film might be surprised to learn that William Wallace was not poor but actually part of a noble family. He never had a wife called Murron, nor did he bellow “Freedom!” as he was gruesomely executed in 1305. What’s more, the kilts, widely seen worn by characters in the film, weren’t actually worn by Scotsmen until the 17th century, more than 400 years after Wallace’s death.
But Braveheart is not alone when it comes to taking liberties with the truth. Just last year, Netflix’s Outlaw King, which tells the story of the life of the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce, was packed with a raft of historical inaccuracies.
But why let history get in the way of a good story?
Looking to share another tale of Scottish history on the silver screen is Mary Queen of Scots, released on 24th January.
The film, based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy, follows the turbulent life of Queen Mary I of Scotland and the events that led to her arrest and execution in 1587 for allegedly plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I.
In what became a significant era in British history – the rise and fall of Mary Stuart, the death of Elizabeth I and the ascension of James Stuart to the throne – Mary Queen of Scots’ actions directly led to the Union of Crowns where a single ruler, Mary’s son, James, ascended to the throne to rule over England and Scotland.
Despite taking place nearly five centuries ago, the story of a strong female leader being constantly undermined, objectified and having her emotional stability questioned by men is a tale that hits close to home today.
While historical accuracy is again hit-and-miss in the upcoming film, it’s the underlying themes and the lessons that we can learn from the past that inspired director Josie Rourke to take on the project.
“I’ve done a ton of Shakespeare plays, and you never do Shakespeare just to do Shakespeare,” Rourke told collider.com in a recent interview. “You go, ‘How is this speaking directly into the heart of the modern world?’ “One of the things I’m passionate about with this movie is, if we’re going to see change in the present, we’re going to have to tell better stories about our past.
“For me, Mary is essentially a compassionate and forgiving person, and I think what you see, call it patriarchy or power, but it can crush that compassion.”
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, David Tennant and Thom Petty. Rating: 15+
Running time: 124 minutes.