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As Ithers See Us: Robert the Bruce in Cinema

Scotland ‘s history has been a fixture of cinema since the very birth of the medium. One of the very first motion pictures depicts the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, in Thomas Edison’s 1895 film The Execution of Mary Stuart – also one of the earliest examples of special effects. Mary and other Scottish historical figures like Macbeth, James VI, & Bonnie Prince Charlie went on to feature in dozens of films. Yet curiously, Scotland’s two most famous sons – William Wallace and King Robert I – are sparsely represented. The upcoming films Outlaw King and Robert the Bruce seek to redress that poor representation of two figures central to Scottish history.

Scots loved the pictures as much as anyone who was introduced to the new marvel, yet that enthusiasm was not reciprocated by way of representation: there was a distinct dearth of Scottish cinema, and what little was present tended towards the Kailyard school of cosy sentiment and reassuring nostalgia. Warm and fuzzy tales of seemple fowk in humble villages amidst the bonny hills were the order of the day – gentle fare like Brigadoon, Greyfriar’s Bobby, The Bridal Path, The Three Lives of Tomasina, Whisky Galore, punctuated by more sombre narratives like adaptations of Rob Roy and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Yet the pool of Scotland’s story from which such films were drawn was shallow indeed: where were the resistances against Viking and Norman and English invasion, the stories of great scientists and explorers, the tales of reformers and heroes – even that most foundational strata of historical records, the annals of our kings and queens outside infamous defeated failures?

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