Braveheart is a suitable text for the Mass Media section of the Higher English paper. Filmand Representation are specified...
Norway and in poor health, but her claim to the throne was upheld. The Scottish noblesestablished Guardians of Scotland un...
father; by the slow motion and point-of-view shots at the funeral itself; and by the close-upsof the distraught family at ...
Wallace is not only a brave and competent fighter; he is also clever, a tactician skilled inworking out strategy. His fath...
the haunting music, the slow motion shots, and the silent mouthing of her comforting,reassuring words to her husband.Murri...
hair hanging loose; and the camera shots are similar, showing the couple in profile embracingeach other.Like Murrin, the P...
their midst, who has changed the rules of warfare and of power brokering. We see this earlyon in the deer hunting scene. A...
which are anachronistic, all of which contribute to the films Scottishness. What is thenpresented to us is a simple confli...
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Braveheart notes in relation to higher paper.

  1. 1. Braveheart is a suitable text for the Mass Media section of the Higher English paper. Filmand Representation are specified as areas of study, and in this article Myra Armstrong andMargaret Hubbard examine the representation of Scotland, of heroes and villains and ofwomen, as well as ideology in the film Braveheart.As a film „Braveheart‟ has had a considerable impact on Scotland. Abroad William Wallaceis now a name people recognise. While we are still too close to the release date of the film forits long term effects to be estimated, in the short term, the tourist trade in Scotland hasmarkedly increased. A Braveheart shop has appeared on the High Street of Edinburgh.Braveheart tee shirts proliferate in the shops of the monuments of Historic Scotland.In this article we intend to look at Braveheart‟s representations of Scotland, heroes andvillains, and women, and then pull this together ideologically. As with the analysis of RobRoy in MEJ number 21, the locus of the depth of analysis is the mass media section of HigherEnglish.Representation of ScotlandScotland is represented as essentially rural. Wallace‟s community is small and tight knit.Bruce and the other Scottish live in bigger communities, but their wooden buildings lack thegrandeur of the stone Norman castles in which Edward I of England is located.The representation of Scotland is maintained through aspects of the mise en scene. Wallaceand his men are dressed in homespun clothing, in natural colours, their hair wild anduncluttered. Blue is used extensively throughout the film to signify Scotland. The music toois that of the pipes, (usually Irish, because of their more haunting sound), but after the funeralof Wallace‟s father, we are reminded of the significance of the pipes when we are told theScottish bagpipes play outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes.Wallace and his army are brave, loyal, honest and honourable. They take revenge whenbetrayed, and in Wallace himself there is a romantic hero of the most swashbucklingTinseltown kind.The second group of Scots are the nobles. Scots in name, but beyond that there is littlesimilarity between their aims and those of Wallace. They are the ruling class, and this is madeclear in their visual similarity to the English. Clean, barbered and dressed by tailors, they areassociated with town-like communities. In Bruce the clash of interests is personified. He is alord, but he admires Wallace, the guerrilla leader second son of a lowland squire. Thus therepresentation of Scotland is divided, along class lines. Wallace‟s Scots are constructed as“real” Scots, while the Scots nobles balance their bidding for the Scottish crown againstmaintaining their lands in England.Much of the representation of Scotland rests on its very difference from England. Castles,chain mail, cavalry and the long bow abound. Treachery, absence of love, cruelty andviolence are the values Edward I displays. Montage is used throughout to define Scotlanddifferently.HistoryA brief synopsis of the history of the period prior to that of the film would be useful.Alexander II ruled Scotland from 1214 till 1249. He was succeeded by his son Alexander IIIwho suffered a fatal accident at Kinghorn in March 1296. During this time Scotland was atpeace with England, and after 1263 at peace with Norway. Alexander‟s immediate successorwas his granddaughter Margaret (the Maid of Norway), then three years old. She was in
  2. 2. Norway and in poor health, but her claim to the throne was upheld. The Scottish noblesestablished Guardians of Scotland until Margaret reached her majority. In 1290 Margaretdied, and the power struggle began. The main contenders were the Baliol family and theBruces. Edward I had made no attempt to intervene in the succession prior to 1290 becausehis intentions had been to marry his son to the Maid of Norway. (A wedding was cheaperthan a war with the same result!) Since this wedding had only been mooted as a possibility,the Scots were wary, but not hostile to Edward, and turned to him for advice on who to selectas king. Amazing though this might sound, it is fact. Edward had previously acted honestbroker over at least two other European monarchies. He chose Baliol, a man whom historyhas treated roughly. He genuinely seems to have tried to rule independent of England, but thiswas not Edwards‟s agenda. Edward wanted a puppet king, and when Baliol did not accord,Edward ordered the Scots lords to support him in an invasion of France in 1294. Baliol,among others, refused to go, and Edward sacked Berwick.William Wallace was the second son of an Elderslie squire descended from a Welsh family.How he sprang full blown into the national consciousness is not at all clear. One legendsuggests that it was as a result of him murdering the Sheriff of Lanark in retaliation for themurder of Wallace‟s wife. Other legends suggest that the Wallace family were alreadydisenchanted with Edward (possibly because of Edwards crushing of Wales), as the Wallacename does not appear on the oath of loyalty to Edward.Whatever the cause, the result is that between the spring of 1296 and the autumn of 1297William Wallace became the leader of a guerrilla army which took on and defeated Edward‟sarmy, a formidable military machine. At Stirling Wallace defeated Edwards‟s army, centredon the bridge, not, as in the film, on an open plain. He was appointed Guardian. At Falkirk hewas deserted by the Scots lords. He did invade England, burning and sacking in retaliation forBerwick. He backed Balliol‟s claim for the throne. Finally he was betrayed and executed in1305. Precisely what he did in the years between 1297 and 1305 is unclear. There is someevidence to suggest he travelled abroad seeking support. Equally unclear is his relationshipwith Bruce.What is clear is that he had an extraordinary military genius, and a passion for Scotland. It isalso worth noting that despite his power and support it was not his aim to take the throne forhimself. He wished a Scottish King to rule in Scotland, and he believed Baliol to be thatrightful monarch.Representation of the heroThe heroes are constructed as essentially Scottish. This is emphasised by the grandeur of themountain and loch setting, against which they are often seen. This, incidentally, is historicallyinaccurate, as Wallace hailed from near Paisley, and he waged war in the Lowlands ofScotland and the North of England. The heroes are often associated with pipe music, referredto by Wallace‟s uncle as outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes, another historical inaccuracy asthe bagpipes did not exist in that form in Wallace‟s day and were not banned until more that400 years later! The use of tartan plaids to construct the Scottishness of the heroes is no moreauthentic, as men of this time would have worn belted tunics made of rough greyish-browncloth.These Scottish heroes are constructed as members of a close and caring community, in starkcontrast to the villains who are disloyal, treacherous, and constantly fight among themselves.The heroes come together to support each on sad occasions like funerals. A strong sense ofcommunity is conveyed by the sad music as the men gently wash the body of Wallace‟s
  3. 3. father; by the slow motion and point-of-view shots at the funeral itself; and by the close-upsof the distraught family at Murrin‟s burial.They also gather together for happy occasions like the wedding, in which the open air setting,the music, the dancing, and the natural clothing are all reminiscent of the celebrations held bythe heroes in both „Robin Hood Prince of Thieves‟ and Rob Roy‟. The lively music, thedancing, and the close-ups of smiling faces construct the heroes as a sociable crowd who,even when times are hard, know how to enjoy themselves. Furthermore, all ages are involved,from the very young to the very old, another contrast with the world of the villains in whichchildren are conspicuously absent.Indeed, the heroes are constructed as protectors of women, children and the family, while thevillains are seen as a danger to all three. In the first scene, where the young Wallacewitnesses the bodies of those murdered by the English dangling from the barn roof, we seethe villains as murderers of children: when Wallace‟s father comforts him, the heroes areconstructed as protectors of children and of the family. A similar sense of family commitmentis suggested by the warm glow illuminating Wallace and his uncle as they eat together. Thestrong father-son relationships of Wallace, Hamish, and their respective fathers contrastdramatically with the uncaring way in which Edward and Bruce wield power over their sons.Women are treated no better by the English: Murrin is beaten, raped and has her throat cut;the princess is sent to negotiate with Wallace even though Edward mistakenly thinks she maybe harmed. Wallace, by contrast, is constructed as a lover, and as a defender of women, firstattempting to save Murrin, but finally able only to avenge her. His behaviour towards thePrincess is chivalrous, and he is protective of her in their last scene together. Despite theabsence of a wife for most of the film (and a construction at times reminiscent of the lonehero of cowboy films) Wallace comes across as a family man in his oft-stated desire for ahome, a family and children, and the close-up of the child in the execution scene is areminder of this.Associated with the desire to have a family is Wallace‟s desire for peace. However, he makesit clear before both Stirling and prior to his betrayal, that a peaceful life is of no value withoutfreedom, a point powerfully emphasised in the slow-motion close-up when he shouts,„Freedom!‟ near the end of the film. Wallace, like Rob Roy, is seen as fighting because hehas to, fighting for Scotland, not for personal gain. And while in history the Scots were asbrutal as the English, reportedly flaying the English Cressingham, after Stirling and carryingpieces of his skin as tokens of freedom, within the narrative of the film any Scottish violenceis seen as justified. This is achieved through montage. For example Wallace‟s first attack onthe English is preceded by the brutal murder of Murrin, and followed by her funeral. Theclose-ups of Murrin, emphasising her youth, beauty and vulnerability, highlight the callous,gratuitous nature of English violence. In the murder scene, the shots of Murrin in her veil-likeshroud are a reminder of her recent marriage. In the funeral scene, the close-ups of herdistraught family stress the enormity of this killing, and the repetition of the style ofWallace‟s funeral emphasises the extent of English violence. Similarly, when Wallaceappears to go beyond acceptable bounds, sending the kings nephews head to him in a box,montage is again employed when immediately afterwards we see the king throw his son‟s„military adviser‟ out of the window. The message is clear. Wallace may use violent methods,but these are necessary against people who are so callous and ruthless they use such violentmethods against even their own.
  4. 4. Wallace is not only a brave and competent fighter; he is also clever, a tactician skilled inworking out strategy. His father tells him, „It is our wits that make us men‟, a point reinforcedby his uncle who says he must first learn to use his head, before learning to use the sword.But his powers go beyond this. He is seen as almost superhuman, one man succeeding againstseemingly impossible odds, when he takes on the English single-handed in his first attack, orwhen he jumps Bond-like on horseback from a window into the moat far below! At timesthese powers are constructed as supernatural, as in the ghostly scenes where his father andMurrin talk to him, and also when he insists of Murrin, I know she‟s watching me.‟ Indeed inthe execution scene he has the power to see Murrin‟s spirit, and the suggestion is that the twolovers are finally united in death.The view of the hero as Christian and morally good is evident throughout the film. Wallace‟sfather and Murrin are given funerals which are explicitly Christian; Wallace‟s wedding isconducted by a priest beside a cross; and the heroes, who are seen crossing themselves atvarious points throughout the film, are blessed by a priest before Bannockburn. Like RobRoy, who refuses to bear false witness against Argyll, Wallace used biblical language whenhe tells the Princess he will not play Judas. However, it is in the mise en scene of theexecution sequence that the religious references are most fully developed. Wallace‟s journeythrough the hostile crowd is reminiscent of Christ‟s journey to Calvary. The execution tableis cross-shaped, and when his hands are tied, the camera rises, emphasising the similarity tothe crucifixion, as do the close-ups of his two friends in the crowd which bring to mind thedisciples present at Christ‟s death in the biblical epics of the 1950s.Associated with this goodness, is the hero‟s strong sense of honour which he maintains tillthe end, chiding the Princess, If I swear to him, then all that I am is dead already.‟ It is hismoral strength and sense of honour that make him such an impressive figure. He has thepower to inspire a whole army at Stirling. This is conveyed by the close-ups as he delivers hispatriotic speech in defiance of tyranny, by the thundering sound of the approaching Englisharmy and the rapid cuts to the orderly, still Scots, transformed from the rabble they werebefore Wallace appeared. Perhaps most dramatic of all is Wallace‟s effect on Bruce. Long,still shots of Wallace emphasise his shock at Bruce‟s treachery at Falkirk, and it is this scenewhich is a turning point for Bruce who declares soon after it, „I will never be on the wrongside again‟. The powerful effect he has on Bruce and others is stressed by the cross-cuttingfrom shots of Wallace being tortured, to close-ups of the crowd, the Princess, Bruce, andWallace‟s comrades.His power is seen to extend beyond the grave. Wallace may be dead, but his legacy lives on.For it is Wallace‟s name, not Bruces, that the Scottish warriors chant at Bannockburn, and thetwo icons associated with Wallace throughout the film (the thistle and the sword) areprominent at the end. Bruce himself holds Wallace‟s thistle, and Wallace sword is throwninto the air as battle commences, a symbol of Scottish strength and independence.WomenThe representation of women in Braveheart has been criticised, the women in the film havingbeen described as little more than territory to be fought over by men. However, examinationof the text suggests something different.The silent, nameless bride in the wedding celebration appears at first a stereotypical woman.She is like the passive Maid Marion in the second half of „Robin Hood Prince of Thieves‟ inher natural flowing clothes and woodland head dress. Yet she is brave in confronting thesoldiers, and clever in the way she saves her husband from them. Her power is conveyed by
  5. 5. the haunting music, the slow motion shots, and the silent mouthing of her comforting,reassuring words to her husband.Murrin, too, is mostly a silent figure. She says little when alive, and even less when shereappears in ghostly form (on one occasion in a scene which appears to show signs ofborrowing from a Scottish Widows ad!). However, like the bride she is stronger that she firstseems, defying her parents by secretly marrying Wallace. She puts up a spirited fight againsther English attackers and, though clearly afraid, remains impassive in the lead up to herdeath. However, despite these strengths, she is a victim, and, like the stereotypical heroine,has to be avenged by the hero. Yet in the end what we are left with is an impression of herstrength which has the capacity to transcend even death.This strength is emphasised in the way her character and that of the Princess are merged. Thewriter has drawn on the Blind Harry legend of Wallace and the Princess, partly to satisfy thedemands of the historical romance by providing a love interest after Murrin‟s death.However, the Princess is also useful in providing narrative solutions. The hero has to be seento win in the end. She enables Wallace to win against Edward in the short term (while theending of the film with Bannockburn enables him to win against the English in the longerterm.)At first the Princess is constructed as a vulnerable figure, lonely and unhappy, trapped in aloveless marriage, living in a foreign land. A sense of restriction is conveyed by the headdresses in which she is wrapped, the bands of precious metal round her forehead, and the haircoverings which look like metal grilles. She is also constructed as romantic, falling girlishlyin love with the idea of Wallace before she sets eyes on him, and falling in love with the manhimself immediately she does.However, she is also seen as a sexual being, frustrated by her passionless marriage, andfinding fleeting fulfilment with Wallace. She is brave and independent, going willingly tomeet and negotiate with a man considered a savage by the English. She is clever, giving awaythe bribe provided by Edward, telling him she has give it to ease the suffering of the poor inYork! The main way in which she differs from the stereotypical heroine, though, is that shedrives the narrative, enabling Wallace to win when she whispers to Longshanks that she iscarrying a child not of his line.A problem with the introduction of this storyline is that Wallace obviously cannot be unitedwith this heroine at the end of the film. Given his construction as loyal, Scottish and a man ofthe people, it is much more appropriate that he is finally re-united with his wife. Thedifficulties this causes are circumvented by the merging of the two female characters. Thefirst indication of this is in the montage when the Princess first visit is preceded by theghostly dream of Murrin. It is almost as if she is giving this relationship her blessing from thegrave. The merging continues when Wallace says to the Princess, I see her strength in you.‟When he tells her, „Open your eyes!‟ it echoes Murrin‟s call to Wallace to wake up. Both thedream and the meeting with the Princess are accompanied by Murrin‟s Theme, another linkbetween the two characters.The same music accompanies the love scene between Wallace and the Princess which hasstrong echoes of Wallace‟s wedding scene. In both, there are nightime woodland shots, withthe characters illuminated by moonlight; the women are both in flowing dresses, their long
  6. 6. hair hanging loose; and the camera shots are similar, showing the couple in profile embracingeach other.Like Murrin, the Princess ends up having to be protected by Wallace. In the scene in his cell,although it is he who is about to be tortured to death, it is she who needs comforted andprotected by his pretence that he has taken the pain-killing drug she has brought him.Ultimately, though, as with Murrin, we are left with a sense of her strength, her power overEdward, and her contribution to the solutions at the end of the film. Equally powerful are thereminders of Murrin – the slow motion shots of her spirit and the close-up of the thistle cloth– showing that both she and Wallace live on beyond their deaths.Representation of the villainsIf Edward I were the only villain, the film would be very simple. There are at least three otherindividual or groups of villains – the English soldiers, the Scots lords and Bruce senior. BruceJunior will be dealt with separately.The EnglishEdward is constructed as both treacherous and lecherous. His plan of dispatching the princessto Wallace is evidence of his treachery. If she is killed, he says it will bring France in (on hisside). Close ups of Edward at the beginning and at his reinstituting of the rite of prima nocteare not only political manoeuvrings. They indicate lecherous thoughts about his daughter-in-law. This is emphasised by the voice-over spelling out that Edward himself may have to takeon responsibility for the succession, the close ups on Edward and the princess, and the point-of-view shots when he is announcing prima nocte.It is clear he despises his son. His throwing out of the window his son‟s lover has to do lesswith homophobia, than with despising his son‟s weakness and military ineptitude. Hisclothing and setting are Norman, his carriage imperial. He is a villain to be reckoned with.At the other end of the social scale there is the villain who attacks Murrin. In short he isgross. The previous wedding scene closed with him watching Murrin, so it is no surprisewhen he returns to stalk her. He is drinking, he is hideous, and when he gets on top of her, thecamera moves to a close up of his tongue, a detail which is designed to revolt every person inthe audience. The soldiers clothing like that of the nobility jars with the scenery. It, and they,do not belong in Scotland. This scene triggers Wallace‟s reaction which makes him anoutlaw.Bruce seniorBruce‟s father is an interesting figure. In some ways he is the most villainous of the villains,for he is unseen by everyone except his son. We first become aware of him when Bruce talksabout his father being away in France, and then glances upward to where we later learn hisleprous father is hiding. Bruce senior is a king maker. His sole concern is to put his son onthe throne. When Bruce says he wants to be like Wallace, that he admires Wallace, Brucesenior brushes this aside. Power lies through courting Edwards‟s support, and this he doesruthlessly to the point of betraying the promise he made to his son. Bruce senior is the realvillain of the story – Wallace knows he is up against Edward, but never once does he alludeto the existence of the man responsible for his betrayal. It is not accidental that thefilmmakers have stressed Bruce‟s leprosy. As he is eaten away externally, so is he internally.He has no honour, no loyalty; only hate.The Scots lordsLastly the Scots lords. They cannot agree amongst themselves about the rightful monarch.Bruce or Baliol? This is clear in the scene when Bruce is made Guardian. When they sidewith the English at Falkirk, Wallace takes reprisals. They are afraid of this powerful leader in
  7. 7. their midst, who has changed the rules of warfare and of power brokering. We see this earlyon in the deer hunting scene. A fifth columnist is among Wallace‟s men. Paid by whom?Edward? Hardly! Bruce senior or the Scots nobles? Wallace has in the Scots lords the enemywithin; for they are primarily not Scots, but lords, whose class interest is more important thantheir national interest. The final shots of the Scots army at Bannockburn show how little theordinary people trust the nobility.It is interesting to note that there are in the film three father/son relationships, and in all ofthem no mother is present. Wallace senior is anxious to protect his son, and so would notallow young William to travel with him on his fatal journey. In the hero‟s family the paternalrelationship is of love. Wallace himself wants children, and in the execution scene is drawn tothe child in the crowd. The two villainous fathers totally disregard the needs of their sons intheir own interest. Edward despises his son and is driven by the obsession to maintaincontrol. Bruce senior goes further. He ridicules and ignores his sons ideals, and finallybetrays him in order that his son can become the King he never was.Bruce JuniorBruce junior is constructed in an unusual way. He is a lord, and a potential contender for thethrone. As a member of a very powerful family with a claim to the throne this would havebeen instilled in him since childhood. At the beginning of the film, we see he is not averse tothe idea of becoming king. Indeed he goes along with his father‟s Machiavellian behaviourenough to collude in the lie that Bruce senior is in France. However Bruce admires Wallace.He tells his father „I want to believe as he does‟, and after Falkirk says „I never want to be onthe wrong side again‟. Wallace‟s passion attracts Bruce, and this is in direct conflict with thethinking of his class, most clearly exemplified by his own father. Wallace has a mission tofree Scotland, the villains pursue self interest, and Bruce occupies the space in the film of thehero with an internal struggle.From this conflict he emerges on Wallace‟s side, and thus becomes a hero. Wallace himselfensures that. For the bulk of the film Bruce admire Wallace, and this is used as a device toconstruct Wallace‟s heroic qualities and his moral centrality to the text. Before FalkirkWallace asks Bruce to lead the Scots and become king. Wallace thus paves the way in theaudience‟s eyes for Bruce to become king, and thus Bruce, as king takes on the mantle ofWallace rather than the moral vacuum of his own father. Thus Bruce‟s reaction to Wallace‟sbetrayal is essential in his eventual passage to hero status. At Bannockburn we know he willlead the Scots, not betray them. History tells us this, and for the audience not versed inScottish history, the voice-over tells us if we were to doubt Bruces own words. The languageof film tells us also. The sidelong looks of distrust of the Scots who were Wallace‟s friendsand companions at Stirling and Falkirk is followed by the shamed looks of Bruce, and thefingering of the cloth in which Wallace had carried Murrin‟s thistle. One of the icons haspassed to Bruce, and with it Wallace‟s blessing. Any lingering doubts of Bruce‟s honour aredispelled in our minds by the soundtrack, and the cutaway shot to the reaction of the noble,who had hoped for collusion with the English.IdeologyIdeologically the film is nationalistic and populist. It is nationalistic in its elevation of loyaltyto Scotland above all else, and populist in that its celebration of the common man isundermined by the belief that there are those born to lead, and indeed those born to be king.The Scottishness in the film is established by the use of an instantly recognisable (thoughhistorically inaccurate) highland setting of mountains, glens and lochs. The film also employseasily understandable icons of Scotland such as the thistle, saltire, pipes and kilts, some of
  8. 8. which are anachronistic, all of which contribute to the films Scottishness. What is thenpresented to us is a simple conflict between Scotland and England, even though the historicalreality was more complex, with Scots fighting on both sides and Scots Lords owning land inEngland. In this conflict the Scots are seen as good, the English as bad.It is, however, the ordinary Scots who are constructed as heroic. The nobles aredishonourable and treacherous, whereas Wallace, the hero, is of the people. This ideology ofthe common man has an obvious resonance with audiences in America. There is also anappeal to the Scottish market in the film‟s nationalism and its „A man‟s a man‟ ideology. Thisis clear in the presentation of Wallace‟s army as akin to a football crowd with saltires paintedon their faces, baring their backsides to the opposition! One of the main pleasures of the filmis seeing these underdogs take on and defeat Edwards formidable military machine.Yet this is not a film which ends up asserting the power of ordinary people. For Wallace,even after his magnificent victory at Stirling, offers to follow Bruce if he will lead the fightfor freedom. What the film leaves us with is a sense of the necessity for leaders. It is crucialto the ideology that in the end the solutions lie with Bruce, a noble and the future king. Thisshift is possible partly because Scottish identity is seen to be of supreme importance. AtBannockburn it overrides Bruce‟s class loyalties, and it is this sense of nationhood which isportrayed as having the power to unite Scots of all classes.The construction of women is similarly complex. All three female characters are undoubtedlystronger than the stereotypical heroines of historical romance. The two Scottish women arebrave and emotionally strong, while the Princess is courageous, independent, and even drivesthe narrative. In many ways these women, like Mary McGregor in Rob Roy, are reminiscentof the strong women we read of in much Scottish literature. However, despite their strengths,they still remain players in the private domain, with even the Princess, who at the endprovides one of the narrative solutions, engaged in a private vendetta against those who havemade her unhappy.It is the male characters alone whose actions are in the public domain, and it is through therepresentation of heroes and villains and the use of montage, that the ideology of justifiedviolence is conveyed. Wallace in today‟s terms would be described by the English as aterrorist, but in Braveheart he is constructed as a selfless fighter for freedom.© 2001MEJ/Margaret Hubbard and Myra ArmstrongMargaret Hubbard, Craigroyston Community High School, Edinburgh and Myra Armstrong,Firrhill High School, Edinburgh