Outlaw King, which tells the story of how Robert the Bruce claimed the Scottish throne, is one of the most-anticipated original productions by American TV streaming giant Netflix.
Starring Californian actor Chris Pine as the heroic king, the big-budget film was shot on location at a variety of Scottish landmarks including Mugdock country park, Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle.
The screenplay was written by a team including director David Mackenzie, who also directed Pine in acclaimed neo-western Hell Or High Water, as well as renowned Scottish playwright David Harrower.
But despite such impressive credentials, Outlaw King failed to impress critics following its screening at the Toronto Film Festival.
While many praised the film’s gritty depiction of 14th century Scotland, others criticised its slow narrative and its difficulity in explaining a complex civil war.
‘Boggy historical saga’
The Hollywood Reporter praised the film’s “lively moments” but felt the military campaign would test some viewers’ attention spans, adding that such a production may be better appreciated when viewed in a cinema rather than at home. “Though likely to be meaningful to Scots, for whom Robert the Bruce is a national hero, audiences Stateside may often find the warrior’s journey something of a grind, nodding off occasionally as they watch the two and a half-hour film from their sofas,” wrote John DeFoe.
‘Bloody Scottish epic can’t conquer weak script’
Entertainment news website Collider was less charitable, praising the film’s technical expertise but summing it up as “an odd movie that strives for realism everywhere except where it matters most”. Critic Matt Goldberg wrote: “I don’t expect Outlaw King to be 100 per cent or even 50 per cent historically accurate. But I do expect it to be interesting, and time and again the movie opts for the simplistic rather than the complex.”
‘Demands to be viewed in theatres’
Variety, Hollywood’s industry bible, also questioned whether such an epic film could truly be appreciated when viewed on a small screen rather than in a movie theatre. “Only there, beamed onto walls as tall as castles, can audiences take in the staggering look of this ultra-high-definition, ultra-widescreen production, and only in that format will they look past its more obvious shortcomings as a piece of entertainment,” wrote Peter DeBruge. “Because whatever its value as rabble-rousing historical reenactment, Outlaw King never quite compares to the many films it’s so keen to imitate, and in some cases outright quote.”
‘Macho medieval bombast’
Critics on the other side of the pond were no more impressed. “Despite all the pained faces, this script gives Robert the Bruce no more depth than a paragraph in a history textbook,” said Charles Bramesco in The Guardian. “If the historical epic exists as a delivery system for swords-and-shields clashes, panoramas of rolling natural vistas and gruff inspirational speeches to those about to die, then Mackenzie has done his job and then some. But his prior films have set the bar a bit higher than that, and this straightforward, unchallenged take on macho valour doesn’t quite reach it.”
Outlaw King will be released on Netflix on November 9