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Braveheart: Celebrating 29 Years of an Iconic Film

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BRAVEHEART was released 29 years ago this week. Acclaimed as one of the great historical action movies and among Mel Gibson’s most popular films, the making of the film is as epic as a medieval battle.

The Origin of Braveheart

In 1983, aspiring American screenwriter Randall Wallace visited Edinburgh to learn about his own Scottish ancestry. Upon seeing a statue of William Wallace at Edinburgh Castle, he asked a tour guide who he was. The story he heard inspired him to write a movie. After finishing his script titled Braveheart, Wallace shopped it around Hollywood studios. Producer Alan Ladd Jr. optioned it for MGM and, upon leaving the studio in 1993, took Braveheart with him. He showed the script to Mel Gibson, who was interested.

Bringing Braveheart to Life

Gibson’s Icon Productions joined with The Ladd Co. to produce the film and approached Warner Bros. to fund it. Warner Bros. agreed on the condition that Gibson sign up for another Lethal Weapon movie, which he refused. Ultimately, a deal was signed with Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Initially, Gibson planned only to produce and direct and was on the lookout for an actor to play Wallace. Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson were considered, but Paramount insisted Gibson star himself. At 38, Gibson felt he was too old to play the 20-something Wallace, but he eventually took on the roles of producer, director, and star.

Production Challenges and Casting

Making the film was an enormous task, with Gibson unintentionally losing 15 pounds during the 105-day production. For the role of the main antagonist, King Edward Longshanks, Sean Connery was first approached but turned it down to make Just Cause. The Assistant Director, David Tomblin, recommended Patrick McGoohan, who was cast as Longshanks. For Wallace’s wife, Murron, Gibson considered Jodie Foster but eventually cast Catherine McCormack. Sophie Marceau played Wallace’s second love interest, Princess Isabelle, and Angus MacFadyen was cast as Robert the Bruce. Brendan Gleeson played Wallace’s fellow warrior, Hamish Campbell, based on the real-life Scottish hero Andrew de Moray. James Cosmo was cast as Hamish’s father, despite being only seven years older than Gleeson.

Historical Inaccuracies and Iconic Moments

While Braveheart is celebrated for its storytelling, it has faced criticism for historical inaccuracies. The title Braveheart actually referred to Robert the Bruce, not Wallace. Wallace’s wife was named Marion, but the film changed it to Murron to avoid confusion with Robin Hood’s Lady Marian. Randall Wallace’s script was based largely on a 15th-century poem by Blind Harry called The Wallace, rather than strict historical sources.

The film is known for its memorable moments, such as the shot where Hamish throws Wallace’s sword into the air before the Battle of Bannockburn, improvised by Brendan Gleeson. The intense battle scenes were toned down to avoid an NC-17 rating, with a four-hour initial cut reduced to 177 minutes. Despite the challenges, the film was a significant success, grossing $209 million worldwide on a $72 million budget and winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Make-Up.

Braveheart’s Legacy

Braveheart left an indelible mark on cinema and Scottish culture. In 2019, a sequel titled Robert the Bruce was released, with Angus MacFadyen reprising his role. The story continues to resonate, celebrating Scotland’s historical figures and captivating audiences worldwide.

As we celebrate the 29th anniversary of Braveheart, it remains a landmark in film history, celebrated for its epic storytelling, compelling performances, and the dedication of its cast and crew to bringing history to life.

Barry Kirkham
Barry Kirkham
Barry Kirkham: Edinburgh Magazine's go-to for tales of tech, science, and yesteryears. Often found wandering Edinburgh's alleys, fork in one hand, history book in the other, he's your fun guide to Scotland's capital and its delicious mysteries!

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