A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…our freedom!”. A 25th anniversary celebration of Mel Gibson’s labor of love “Braveheart”. Facing problems of financial funding causing Mel Gibson to take on multiple roles. Slammed by history buffs in it’s numerous historical inaccuracies that plagued its story, to the modern vehicle that showed up during a key battle sequence. Originally envisioned by Mel Gibson to be 3 hours and 45 minutes, both the studio and motion picture association forced him to cut the film down for time constraints and prevent an NC-17 rating. “Braveheart” went on to gross $210 million and won 5 academy awards, including best picture and best director for Mel Gibson. A lavish, entertaining spectacle with sweeping action, drama, and romance to match its ambition. “Braveheart” is a masterpiece, and remains as irresistibly epic as it always has.
“Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”
William Wallace (Mel Gibson)
Mel Gibson who gained attention in America in 1979’s “Mad Max”, had quickly become one of the biggest and most bankable stars of the 80’s and 90’s. In 1987 came the role of a lifetime that made him a bona fide action star and sex symbol to women around the world. The role was that of LA cop Martin Riggs in Richard Donner’s “Lethal Weapon”. Gibson starred in some high profile films after “Lethal Weapon”, including making two more films within the series, before making his directorial debut with his first feature “The Man Without A Face” in 1993, which he also starred.
Within a year of his directorial debut, Gibson was already back at work on his next directorial effort. Bigger scale, bigger budget, bigger cast, bigger risks, that culminate to one of his biggest successes of his career and would earn him praise as a filmmaker. Gibson came into his own as a director with “Braveheart”, an account of the life and times of medieval Scottish patriot William Wallace and, to a lesser degree, Robert the Bruce’s struggle to unify his nation against its English oppressors.
The story begins with young Wallace, whose father and brother have been killed fighting the English, being taken into the custody of his uncle, a nationalist and pre-Renaissance renaissance man. He returns twenty years later, a man educated both in the classics and in the art of war. There he finds his childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormack), and the two quickly fall in love. There are murmurs of revolt against the English throughout the village, but Wallace remains aloof, wishing simply to tend to his crops and live in peace.
However, when his love is killed by English soldiers the day after their secret marriage (held secretly so as to prevent the local English lord from exercising the repulsive right of prima noctae, the privilege of sleeping with the bride on the first night of the marriage), he springs into action and single-handedly slays an entire platoon of foot soldiers.
The other villagers join him in destroying the English garrison, and thus begins the revolt against the English in what will eventually become full-fledged war. Wallace eventually leads his fellow Scots in a series of bloody battles that prove a serious threat to English domination and, along the way, has a hushed affair with the Princess of Wales (the breathtaking Sophie Marceau) before his imminent demise.
Film producer Alan Ladd Jr. initially had the project at MGM, when he picked up the script from writer Randall Wallace, who went on the script “Pearl Harbor”, “We Were Soldiers” and “Heaven Is For Real”. Wallace based it on the poem called “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace”, which was a romanticized retelling of the life of William Wallace.
When MGM was going through new management in 1993, Ladd had left the studio and took some of its top properties, including “Braveheart”. Gibson had come across the script several times, even though he liked it, he kept passing on it. However, it had an effect on him and he kept thinking about it. When the script for “Braveheart” wouldn’t stop landing on Gibson’s desk, he turned the movie into a personal passion project and finally accepted.
There was a lot of doubt from the studios that there was a profit to be made in war epics that happened in Scotland, but Gibson proved them wrong by bringing in over $210 million dollars at the box office. “Braveheart” would go on to be nominated for 10 Oscars and win 5 Academy Awards, with Gibson earning one for Best Director and Best Picture.
“Braveheart” is known for it’s historical inaccuracies, which Mel Gibson commented on the “Braveheart” Blu Ray and DVD commentary. He confirmed that he was aware of the inaccuracies going into production, but decided that he wanted the movie to be “cinematically compelling” rather than strictly following the events of history. One of the major historical inaccuracies was the age of the actor playing William Wallace.
The most important deeds of William Wallace that were shown on film were events that transpired during his late twenties, while Mel Gibson was in his late thirties when he portrayed the character. Gibson’s age was one of the reasons why Gibson didn’t want to star in the film. Gibson had originally wanted Jason Patric (“Lost Boys”) to star in the movie, as he was closer to William Wallace’s age. It was due to the difficulties in finding financing that Mel Gibson was forced to take on the starring role, while also serving as director and producer of the film.
Gibson and his production company, Icon Productions, had difficulty raising money for the film. Warner Bros, who funded Gibson’s first directed film, was willing to fund the project on the condition that Gibson sign on for a fourth “Lethal Weapon” sequel, which he refused (this was before the fourth film actually happened). Gibson eventually gained enough financing for the film, with Paramount Pictures helping to finance a third of the budget in exchange for North American distribution rights to the film. Another major studio, 20th Century Fox had put up two thirds of the budget in exchange for international distribution rights.
Principal photography began in June 1994. “Braveheart” may be the most obvious movie from Scotland ever made and actually had a huge influence on Scotland, with the film being cited as the reason for a huge spike in tourism to the country. It was during the location shoots in Scotland that members of the Wallace clan appeared as extras during some of the scenes.
Mel Gibson said that they showed up wearing the official tartan colors of the clan. This was despite the fact that kilts wouldn’t become a thing in Scotland for another three hundred years or so, but that’s a minor complaint compared to some of the other historical inaccuracies in the movie. The Wallace clan continues on to this day, though William Wallace is still their most famous member.
To learn how to speak Scottish, Gibson said he learned some of it from Sean Connery. “I had dinner with Sean Connery one time, and Hungarian Goulash was on the menu,” Gibson said. “To hear Sean actually utter a word like ‘Goulash’ is a lesson in itself. So you just pick it up from people you’re talking to and hearing”.
While it takes place in Scotland, it was actually mostly filmed in Ireland. The crew had only spent six weeks filming in Scotland, before packing up and moving to Trim, County Meath in the Republic of Ireland. Trim is home to Trim Castle, which is a ruined fortress that was repurposed for several different locations in the movie.
The production was moved to Ireland due to significant tax breaks, as the money situation was already too tight for what Mel Gibson was trying to achieve. The major battle scenes were shot while in Ireland using members of the Irish Army Reserve as extras. To lower costs, Gibson had the same extras, of up to 1,600 in some scenes, portray both armies. The reservists had been given permission to grow beards and swapped their military uniforms for medieval garb. This is also why a lot of “Game of Thrones” is filmed in Ireland. The Republic of Ireland also offered to help the production of “Braveheart” in the form of soldiers.
“We shot in Scotland for the first few weeks, and those highland areas are unequalled and so distinctive and beautiful,” Gibson said. “Ireland has stuff over in the west that kind of equals that, but you’re so far out there’s nowhere to put a crew. You’d have to live in caves”. Gibson continued to say: “We had the villages built in Scotland, and even during the summer there was still snow on those mountains,” Gibson said. “Then we learned afterwards that this area had the highest precipitation in Europe”.
“We realised pretty quickly that we couldn’t stop because it’s raining. Sometimes you can’t even see the rain on film, but it’s always there. Then sometimes we enhanced the rain with the fire hoses and really went for it. We shot regardless. ‘Is the sun in or is the sun out? It’s gone behind a cloud. Well we’ll adjust it later!’. We had to do that or we’d have never done anything”.
Gibson went on to discuss shooting in Ireland. “So we shot up in Fort William and got all the benefits of that West Coast Scotland backdrop. But we couldn’t find a place where you could do all that battle scenes with all those horses. Ireland, of course, is very horse country. We were able to find a location, particularly for those battles, which would have been logistically impossible had we not had the Curragh, which was the firing range for the army. The barracks were literally just over the hill, and we were using the reserves as extras. So they’d walk to work; they were right there. And then right by the Curragh was a massive racetrack where you could house and stable all your animals. So everything was in one spot”.
“Braveheart” faced many difficulties during its production. One of these was the fact that many of the film’s scenes took place outside, which meant that it took longer than normal to set up any kind of lighting. The rain (or lack of rain) caused several continuity flubs, as there are scenes where the ground goes from dry to wet within a matter of seconds.
There are also a lot of problems with focusing, as there are several shots in the movie that are clearly out of focus. This was due to the hectic pace of the fighting scenes, which meant that it was difficult for the shots to come out in the way that the producers expected. These mistakes didn’t stop “Braveheart” for winning an Academy Award for cinematography.
Mel Gibson says that there were only a few sprained ankles and broken noses from the battle scenes caused on the set. Mel Gibson makes a cryptic remark in one of the behind the scenes documentaries on the Blu Ray, where he claims that fake news reports from during the time of production said that five-hundred people were sent to the hospital. Gibson claims that these stories were planted by “detractors,” though he doesn’t elaborate on who these people might be.
A lot of horses were used throughout the movie, many of which appeared during the battle scenes. These battles include moments where horses crash into enemy lines and right into spears. The horses used for the crashes where actually mechanical and were placed on a moveable track that ended with a spring, so that the fake horses would look like they were leaping at the last moment. The bulk of the cavalry was made up of real horses, but they stopped long before they reached the spears, as the focus shifted to the fake ones that were closer to the camera.
Mel Gibson himself almost suffered a terrible injury on the set, caused by a horse when his horse nearly crushed him. It was during a scene where he had fallen off the horse and it reared up in surprise. The problem was that the horse turned the wrong way and almost landed on Gibson. It was only due to the fact that his stunt double rushed in and pulled him to safety that Gibson had escaped without injury.
The many times I’ve seen “Braveheart”, I’ve never noticed it but it’s said a major error is in the final cut of the film. The mistake made was a car can be seen in the background of a shot during the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This is the kind of error that you likely wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed it out to you. It happens during the moment when the cavalry of England charges into the lines at the start of the battle, which is one of the most exciting moments in the movie, so you’ll likely be caught up in the action. But once it has been pointed out to you, it’s hard not to notice the large white Jeep that is parked in the distance during the cavalry charge. This error has since become one of the most infamous movie mistakes in cinema history.
There were instances during the production where Mel Gibson admitted that he had acted like “the Antichrist” and snapped on other people who were working on the movie. This happened on at least three different occasions during production, which was likely due to the stress he was under while filling so many pivotal roles on the set at once.
Gibson also flipped out during budget negotiations with Bill Bernstein, who was representing 20th Century Fox. Bernstein wasn’t offering enough money to cover the filming of the battle scenes, yet was expecting a quarter of the cut of the film’s theatrical run. This demand infuriated Gibson to the point that he threw a glass ashtray to the wall.
Gibson has said that his memories of the production are mostly hazy, due to how hectic they were for him on a personal level. He took several months out of his life in order to star in a movie where he appeared in most of the scenes, while also acting as a director and one of the main producers. The workload was so hectic that Gibson actually lost fifteen pounds over the course of the movie, despite the fact that he would gorge on food. He put a lot of energy into making “Braveheart” and his passion for the film can be clearly seen in the behind-the-scenes footage taken during the production process, which is on the Blu Ray.
While it was said there was a lot of drama going on behind-the-scenes of “Braveheart”, with Gibson personally going to bat for the movie on many occasions. That if it weren’t for Gibson’s passion for the movie, “Braveheart” may never have been made.
The original envisioned cut of “Braveheart” was three hours and forty-five minutes long. Gibson had to cut it down for time restraint and for the graphic violence. Gibson had to tone down the film’s battle scenes to avoid an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. The sequences that needed to be changed the battle scenes and change the focus of William Wallace’s execution so that we see his face instead of the injuries that are being inflicted upon him.
Gibson and editor Steven Rosenblum initially had a film at 195 minutes, but Sheryl Lansing, who was the head of Paramount at the time, requested Gibson and Rosenblum to cut the film down to 177 minutes. According to Gibson in a 2016 interview with Collider, Gibson would be interested in reassembling the nearly four hour cut, if both Paramount and Fox were interested.
Gibson said: “I remember bringing it in at 3 hours and 15 minutes, and thinking we couldn’t possibly carve any more out of it, but having to rethink it again. There was pressure to bring the length down, because you have to tell a story and not keep anyone hanging around for too long. You have to keep it moving and not drag”.
“It was actually the head of the studio at that time, Sherry Lansing, who gave myself and the editor Steve Rosenbloom a general note. It confused us at first and we thought she didn’t get it at all. And then we slept on it and both said, ‘She’s right!’ She said she thought we were letting the audience get ahead of us a little bit. That’s a good note, and one you take with you, because you don’t want the audience to know stuff that the characters are then taking the time to catch up to”.
“We extracted things and inferred more things to almost keep things from the audience a bit, so they arrived at things at the same time. It enabled us to get from 3 hours and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 48 minutes, almost half an hour, and then it really sang. You don’t want to hang around longer than you’re welcome. Brevity is the soul of wit, as Shakespeare said”. The deleted footage hasn’t been included on any home releases of the movie. Here’s hoping It’s that we will see this unseen footage on some extra special edition in the future, but for now it’s all locked in some vault at Paramount.
Principal photography ended on October 28, 1994. The film was shot in the anamorphic widescreen format with Panavision C and E Series lenses. “Braveheart” grossed $210 million, on a $70 million budget. It was the thirteenth highest-grossing film of 1995. It was released on DVD in 2000 and released on Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Sapphire Series in 2009, featuring a second disc with bonus features. It was released on 4K UHD Blu-ray as part of the 4K upgrade of the Paramount Sapphire Series in 2018. It was recently re-released by Best Buy in an exclusive 25th anniversary Steelbook, containing all of the same features as previous releases.
Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” is right up there, with actor and director Kevin Costner and his big Oscar winner “Dances With Wolves”. A lavish, entertaining spectacle full of manly men, rousing battles and women who easily see Gibson’s hero potential. In addition to staging magnificent battle scenes, Gibson also manages to recreate the filth and mood of the 13th century.
“Braveheart” has gut wrenching, bone breaking violence that is raw, and so are the emotions. It is essentially Mel Gibson’s William Wallace fan fiction that delivers enough sweeping action, drama, and romance to match its ambition. “Braveheart” is a masterpiece, and remains as irresistibly epic as it always has.