The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Monday, 7 July 2008

22. (i) Freedom!

Having recently considered the depiction of the great conqueror Chinggis Khan in Mongol, I am led to ponder another cinematic portrayal of a martial hero, namely Mr Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson's iconic performance as the inspired guerrilla, William Wallace, in Braveheart.

Whilst not without its critics, Braveheart did (in addition to worldwide acclaim) prove popular with many Scots, in particular the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Alex Salmond, who was outspoken in its praise. It has just topped a poll as the Greatest Scottish Movie of All Time (narrowly beating Trainspotting, then Whiskey Galore). This is difficult to swallow for those who are concerned about either the depiction of the period (eg - kilts and woad having no part in Scottish dress at that time), or the events (eg - pretty much everything in the movie), let alone the notion of Sgt Martin Riggs as the Knight of Elderslie.

There is some consolation for English viewers that at least we get The Prisoner portraying the Hammer of the Scots, a nice piece of casting that almost makes up for everything else, and which (along with a desire to see just how grossly distorted the Gibson history was) greatly motivated a younger self to learn everything I could about the reign of Edward I - more on whom some other day.

Even those Scots who simply enjoyed Braveheart as a rousing piece of English-bashing entertainment found the grotesque Mel Gibson statue that materialized in 1997 at the Wallace Monument something of an insult to national pride. In a recent, delightfully apt development, it seems that the controversial sculpture may soon be moving to its natural home : Donald Trump's projected billion dollar golfing resort on the Aberdeenshire coast. At the risk of terminal digression, I note that Mr Trump has a very nice website outlining his proposal, which includes the following deeply touching personal detail:
The project will only strengthen Mr. Trump’s connection to Scotland, where his mother grew up in a simple croft (a small agricultural land unit found in northern Scotland) on the Island of Lewis in Stornoway.

The Wallace Monument - a colossal tower with an extravagantly crenellated crown - might be considered to be of an equally representative degree of poor taste and aesthetic judgement of the century in which it was constructed. My cautious opinion is that Victorian bad taste will stand the test of time better than late 20th century crassness. The 19th century was a time of a reemergence and to some extent redefining of Scottish nationalism, and Wallace became pre-eminent as a symbol of Scottish pride. Naturally, the final volume of the Edinburgh-published Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica contains his biography. I hope that Accordingianists share my faith that the accuracy of EB9's portrait need not be prefaced by a disclaimer such as graces Braveheart's IMDB entry :

Incorrectly regarded as goofs: This is neither a biopic nor a historical documentary but is, rather, a romantic fiction inspired by true events. Many of the "real" characters and events have been deliberately reinterpreted to suit the story, as have some details of costume and custom.


Next : more Wallace.

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