MCM: Bonnie Prince Charlie


Well, there is goes, the big Outlander second season two finale and the you-knew-it-wouldn’t-end-well Battle of Culloden. And why? Because Bonnie Prince Charlie, that’s why. And Scotland. And, really, the English overlords, if you want to get at the start of things. But this isn’t about politics, this is about the sometimes foppy, sometimes valiant, sometimes incompetent, usually tragic figure of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, heir to Scotland’s throne. For such a hugely romantic figure in Scottish history and literature, he actually hasn’t shown up in film or TV very often or very successfully. Outlander is perhaps the most in-depth portrayal, even if it’s not an especially sympathetic version. Our last Outlander recap and podcast will come out tomorrow, but I want to take a Man Candy Monday look at the historical anti-hero first.

Although really, before we indulge in some fictional Bonnie Prince Charlie on screen, we should get familiar with at what is known of the real person. Here are the contemporary portraits I could verify (note that, much like his predecessor Mary Queen of Scots, a great many paintings are attributed as being him but aren’t legit!).

Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1732, by Antonio David

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1732, by Antonio David

Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1737, after Jean-Etienne Liotard

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1737, after Jean-Etienne Liotard

Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1745, by Allan Ramsay

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1745, by Allan Ramsay

Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1750, by William Mosman

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1750, by William Mosman

Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1785, by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1785, by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

Alright then, how do the few film and TV versions of the bonnie prince measure up? Let’s compare…


Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923)

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923)

Ivor Novello as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

This silent movie was filmed on location in the Scottish Highlands, so props for that. But I could only scrounge up one photo and a few super-charming adverts. These images pretty much cement the fictional representation of Bonnie Prince Charlie as part 18th-century fop with powdered wig and lots of lace and part All-Plaid Scots SuperHero with great kilt and plaid coat.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923) Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923)


Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)

David Niven as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

The only full feature-length movie made about Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden, and by all accounts, it sucks. A few of the battle scenes were used in Errol Flynn’s The Master of Ballantrae (1953), which wasn’t a big hit either.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)

The costumes don’t look too bad here. Also, nice glassware.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)

But I’m not buying Niven as the Prince.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)

And audiences didn’t either.


The Battle of Culloden (1964)

The Battle of Culloden (1964)

Olivier Espitalier-Noel as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

This is a mock documentary about Culloden, filmed as if a modern TV news crew were covering the battle and interviewing participants. I agree that this one is justifiably praised for giving a gritty, realistic, and even-handed look at what happened as opposed to a romanticized story.


Chasing the Deer (1994)

Chasing the Deer (1994)

Dominique Carrara as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Super low budget take on Culloden. I think this flick was a locally produced movie using a lot of reenactors as the cast.

Chasing the Deer (1994)

What little money they had was spent on those two wigs. Meh.


Highlander episode, “Take Back the Night” (1995)

Highlander episode, Take Back the Night (1995)

Ben Pullen as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Well, of course, everyone’s favorite immortal Scotsman has a run-in with Bonnie Prince Charlie! In this ep, circa 1746, Duncan MacCloud is helping the Prince escape Scotland right after the battle — and yes, Charles leaves in drag.

Highlander episode, Take Back the Night (1995)

This scene is after Culloden so the Prince is all rumpled and his wig is messy.


Highlander episode, “Through a Glass Darkly” (1996)

Highlander episode, Through a Glass Darkly (1996)

Struan Rodger as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

And again, Duncan meets up with the Prince, only now it’s much later — 1786 — and Charlie’s not so bonnie. He’s an old man and there’s no more battles to be fought for the Scottish throne.

Highlander episode, Through a Glass Darkly (1996)

Really nailed the look of the older portrait of the prince here.


Outlander, season two (2016)

Outlander (2016)

Andrew Gower as Prince Charles Edward Stuart

This Bonnie Prince Charlie is waaaaaay better dressed than any of the others, that’s for sure. The character is charming, stupid, irritating, and determined, which is a pretty fair picture of this man in exile dreaming of ruling a country he doesn’t know.

Outlander s02e02

Appropriately poncy, and you’ll like him for it.

Outlander s02e06

Again with the cocktails.

Outlander s02e10

We can do it! (Ok, not really.)

Who’s your favorite on-screen Bonnie Prince Charlie?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

16 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Andrew Glover for the young prince who dreams of restoration of father’s throne. Although at times, you didn’t see his charisma, which was noted by all.

    I feel that it was the best overall portrait of such a complicated individual. He did have some military training something his father didn’t and that showed in 1715. And Claire and Jamie were trying to stop Culloden, and therefore, perhaps were trying very hard not to like him sort of. Therefore, maybe showing the twit over the charismatic Prince was just the thing. Although, didn’t the author, Ms Gabaldon convey both in print?

    • SarahV

      and Terry, WE LOVE YOU.

      Thank you for all your great, hard work this season!!! Thank you, thank you.

      (I can’t wait to hear about how much fun you had with Claire’s 1968 outfits. Geillis’ too!)

    • Susan Pola

      Thank you for your comment. More importantly, Merci beaucoups for your hard work this season. I really loved all the clothing you and your team designed and made this season, especially Claire’s teal (my favourite colour) dress she wore to plead with Louis XV.

  2. Adam Lid

    They did a great nailing it. A lethal combination of cluelessness, narcissism, and just plain stupidity.

  3. Kathryn MacLennan

    Culloden should definitely get more cinematic love. How much more drama do you need?

    I also really want Bonnie Prince Charlie’s embroidered tartan ensemble in Outlander. Does it come in MacLennan tartan?

    • Trystan L. Bass

      When I started writing this, I figured, of course there were tons of flicks about Charlie & Culloden — romanticizing the two is a cottage industry in Scotland! So I was surprised that I had to scrape around for just these few, small versions.

  4. Janette

    There is supposedly a film currently filming. (According to BBC News anyway.) I recall some months back there was controversy over the casting of an English actor to play BPC. I think some people don’t realise that he wasn’t actually Scottish.
    I watched Culloden (1964) while at Uni. It made quite an impression then. It remains a remarkable, experimental, piece of TV. As is pointed out in that, there were probably more Scots fighting against BPC than for him however what happened afterwards really united the Scots against the English and turned BPC into the hero that he really wasn’t.

  5. Andrew

    Props to you for including Culloden (1964). Its documentary style puts romanticism in perspective. “This is roundshot. And this is what it does….”

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I could be wrong, but I think they play this film at the museum AT Culloden — if not this, it’s very similar & incredibly gripping.

  6. lesartsdecoratifs

    Watkins’ Culloden (the 1964 documentary) is pretty amazing. It was filmed on a literal shoestring budget using one single cannon, a bunch of people from Inverness and an exchange student from Mauritius. It looks amazing and basically enshrined reenactment as a worthy documentarian technique. It’s overarching message is also the ultimate anti-romanticism since it focuses on the class aspects of war. No side looks like it has a decent reason to be there. Ironically, despite correctly characterising the rebellion as stupid, unnecessary lost cause, the conclusion of Culloden probably plays at every SNP meeting.

    I am not surprised that there aren’t many other movies about Culloden. How do you improve on such perfection?

  7. Damnitz

    Christopher Biggins played a fat, frustrated Bonnie Prince Charlie in “Kidnapped” (1978 version) and I favore him.