Yeah, I know, that’s a pretty low bar. So I didn’t expect much from Netflix’s original film Outlaw King (2018) starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce. It’s not exactly the same story as everyone’s least favorite Scottish historical onscreen mishmash, but there are some of the same characters as in Braveheart (1995) and it’s set around the same time. This movie is also going for the same kind of sweeping epic thing, which means that costuming historical accuracy is likely low on the priorities list, but AT LEAST THERE ARE NO KILTS, CAN I GET AN AMEN?!?
I went in prepared for a lot of big, bloody, boring battle scenes and was pleasantly surprised to just find three major battles, the longest being confined to the final 15 minutes of the film. Most of the flick is Robert on the run, contemplating manly things like honor and revenge, so you get many shots of Chris Pine brooding intensely. If that’s your thing, you’ll love it. Myself, I clipped my two cats’ nails because by that point, I’d taken enough costume screencaps.
The Scottish scenery is stunning, as this was filmed on location around Glencoe, Stirling, Linlithgow Palace, the Isle of Skye, and other gorgeous parts of the country. But if you know even the tiniest bit about Scottish history, you know the whole infighting Scots storyline, which takes up the bulk of the Outlaw King‘s plot. There’s no spoilers in history, and I guess no new stories either. Even trying to juice up the romance between Robert and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, doesn’t add to the plot much. They get a few lines together and a sex scene, but that’s all.
As far as accuracy of that storyline, this production easily beats Braveheart by not making shit up out of whole cloth. There are some truncations of the timeline and mushing together of little events here and there, but it’s not a silly cartoon version of history For a detailed analysis of the non-costume history, check out Shadiversity’s video on YouTube.
Costumes in Outlaw King
First off, let’s talk about a non-costume — Chris Pine’s much-hyped full-frontal nude scene. Go ahead and fast-forward to 1 hour and 27 minutes to catch his quick bathe in a cold Scottish lake for the reveal:
Yeah, no big deal. But we had to get that out of the way.
Ehem. Most of the actual clothing is either armor (which doesn’t excite me, but rock on with your bad selves in the comments!) or tunic-y medieval stuff. OK, that doesn’t excite me either, but I’ve researched and made some of it, as you end up doing if you spend any time in the SCA, even if you prefer “late period,” aka 16th century. So I have to say costume designer Jane Petrie (best known for Netflix’s The Crown) did quite a good job making Outlaw King‘s non-armor outfits circa 1300-1320 look interesting and not just like generic sacks! For starters, you can actually see that her team used authentic rectangular construction methods, which she discusses in an interview with Jezebel:
“The fashions are dictated by the width of the loom. In this case, it was probably about 60 inches, which is kind of an arm span, or narrower. It would never be wider than 60. So we chose a width of linen that we liked, and it was narrower than 60, actually, probably 70 centimeters or something like that. It wasn’t huge. And I said to the cutters, “Don’t do any curves.” Everything has to come out of these rectangles, in the way that a kimono does. If you look at something from early Azerbaijan or Romania or Japan, all of those early costumes, they’ll have straight sleeves, and everything’s on the fold, and it’s made out of rectangles and triangles so if you want volume, it’s a diagonal across that width. So you start playing with those rectangles and triangles and never using curves in the sleevehead, and literally the only bit of fabric you throw away is the hole that you cut to stick your head through and probably they used that for patching. Nothing’s wasted.”
These cutting methods give a lovely shape to the tunics, especially on the men, which you can see in some of the fighting and running scenes (honestly, that makes it more interesting to me; I got bored otherwise). It reminds you of how practical those deep gored skirts in tunics were for movement, while still providing warmth and coverage of the fabric. And you could get all of that out of narrow looms — clever and elegant!
Some of the men also wear padded, quilted armor or gambesons, which could be worn alone or underneath chainmail.
It strikes me as a bit more like this:
Than like this:
Though maybe I’m too harsh? If you squint, maybe the ones in Outlaw King are kinda like this…
“E” for effort, let’s say. Same goes for he women’s clothing, especially that on Florence Pugh playing Elizabeth. It’s pretty good if you squint.
Of course I’m nitpicking, it’s what we do. Petrie didn’t rent all these costumes — she’s told the media, “Pretty much in Outlaw King, if it’s on the screen, we made it.” So yes, I understand the work that went into it. And it does look more 14th-century than Braveheart that’s for sure. But that’s none too difficult!
Interestingly, while there aren’t any kilts, there is a very subtle use of tartan throughout Outlaw King that I’m guessing few people would notice.
At least they’re all in muted vegetable-dye colors. The first few of these tartans look similar with wide checks (or setts), while the one on Neil has a smaller scale reminiscent of the earliest known Scottish tartan-like fabric, called the Falkirk Sett.
Petrie gave a good try with the women’s headdresses, as she told Jezebel:
“You’re showing somebody in the crowd, this is how we want to tie the headdresses on, this is the underlayer, this is the starched piece that will go on and this is how they’ll wear it. Then everybody’s having a go. And they’re all the same shape piece of fabric — if you flatten them out, they’re exactly the same really. And we’ve got little caps and things that were different, but if you’re talking about things that come out of a headscarf, it’s the personalities of the people in the crowd who were getting better and more adventurous as filming went on. It just shows you what you can get out of, you’ve got one shape, go for it and try it and look at the research. We have lots of research on the walls all the time. We’re always swimming in research. I think the variety is just the variety of people working within the constraints of the rectangle.”
I just think they needed more headdresses in general and where they did use them, they either didn’t use enough pins to hold them together or they didn’t style the hair underneath so the fabric had something to be pinned into. Because the headgear sometimes looked sloppy and like it was about to fall off the ladies’ heads.
Plus, Elizabeth totally had Leading Lady Syndrome so her hair was always down and she never wore a hat (likewise Robert the Bruce didn’t wear a hat, unless it was his crown).
Yeah, it’s not a great movie or a great frock flick, but I can agree with Popular Mechanics‘ assessment in comparing our two Scottish history flicks: “Braveheart has been called one of the least accurate historical movies ever made … Outlaw King does a better job of picturing Scotland as it actually was in the 1300s.”
What do you think of Outlaw King — is it Scottish or crap or both?