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1. Kilts Aren’t Period (for the 14th Century)
The development of the kilt and tartan is a fascinating rabbit hole, and I recommend you check out Brenna’s site for more info about its history. But the TL;DR is that the style of kilt represented in Braveheart is 100% not historically accurate for the 1300s. What would the Highlanders have been wearing? Tunics and braes like everyone else in Europe. I know you’re disappointed.
2. William Wallace Wasn’t a Highlander
The blue-face painted, wild-mullet-haired version of William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson sure makes for dramatic cinema, but I’m here to piss all over your fantasies of the noble Scottish savage. While much of Wallace’s personal history is disputed, there’s evidence that his family hailed from the Lowlands, somewhere in the vicinity of Glasgow. One thing is for certain, Wallace weren’t no peasant nobody. He was a knight of the Scottish court, appointed Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland, probably spoke French with more fluency than Scottish Gaelic, and was pretty much the exact opposite of the stereotype of a poor Highland peasant as depicted in the film.
Also, “Braveheart” was in reference to Robert the Bruce, not Wallace.
3. Princess Isabella
Princess Isabella is probably the most historically inaccurate person in the entire film, going so far off the grid that she might as well be considered a fictional character. The real Isabella was not the raven-haired French beauty that has a passionate love affair with Wallace and ends up getting pregnant by him, eventually putting a Scot on the throne of England (tee hee!). She was born around 1295, which would have made her a toddler during the Battle of Falkirk and still living in France. She did not arrive in England for her marriage to Edward II until 1308, three years after Wallace’s execution. And she never would have known Edward I, her father-in-law, because he was dead by the time she shipped off to marry his son. All of which makes it pretty unrealistic for her to bang Wallace and get knocked up with his lovechild, just sayin’.
4. Stretch Velvet Isn’t Historically Accurate
Trust me, I know it’s pretty. Hell, I’ve even made a 14th c. gown based on the same aesthetic. But this is not what 14th c. velvet looked like, I’m sorry to say.
In case you’ve never realized it, Frock Flicks’ tagline is a reference to Braveheart. All those stretch panne velvet dresses worn by the Princess might look pretty, but to any historical costumer worth their salt they stand out as SO NOT PERIOD. Real velvet, the kind made from silk, was just hitting the European market right about the early 1300s, imported from the Middle East via trade with Venice, so while it’s plausible that Isabella may have known what velvet was, she still probably wasn’t wearing it around the palace in Scotland. That, and it looked nothing like panne velvet, nor did it include Lycra.
5. Edward II and Phillip
Prince Edward was portrayed as an effeminate little shit who callously rejects his beautiful wife to lavish attention on his equally shitty lover, Phillip. What we know about Edward’s sexual appetites (and honestly, it isn’t much) would put him around a two on the Kinsey Scale. He was thought to have had affairs with both genders, fathering several kids out of wedlock, and his attachment to Piers Gaveston (who Phillip is loosely based on) was strong enough that there were rumors the two were lovers. In short, the film reduced Edward to a gay stereotype to make the character of William Wallace look like the manliest man who ever banged a French princess. Also, no one got thrown out a window.
6. Blue War Paint
I could write an entire paper about the ways Braveheart appropriates the stereotype of the “noble savage,” and at the top of the list would be the blue woad face paint that Wallace and his army slather on themselves prior to battle. There’s a strong parallel here with Native American “war paint” and the fetishization of sublimated “primitive cultures” as somehow more pure than their dominant counterparts. It also makes it really easy to pick out Mel Gibson in a crowd because his face is almost entirely blue. But the bottom line is that the woad war paint was ripped off from the Picts, a race of people who several hundred years before Wallace’s time.
(Did anyone else notice that Gibson’s woad matches his eye color?)
7. The Historical Mullet
For some unknown reason, the vast majority of men’s hairstyles in period films are what we call the “historical mullet.” It’s that ubiquitous shoulder-length shaggy haircut that says “manly man up front, sensitive ponytail guy in the back.” This is probably one of the top tropes of historical movies, particularly those filmed after 1970, and Braveheart was no exception. The historical mullet is featured on numerous male characters in the film, but the most egregious offender is Mel Gibson, mainly because he’s in like 99% of the scenes and you have no choice but to stare at that abomination of a haircut. Also, for some unknown reason, every Scot in the film is wearing a rodent tail in his hair, as well as random braids and odd bits of twine and strips of fabric tied on. It’s pretty ridiculous.
Join us, with special guest Brenna Barks, in snarking the shit out of what Braveheart gets wrong — listen to our Snark Week podcast below or on iTunes!
(NSFW — Braveheart nearly broke us, and there’s a lot of swearing. A lot more than what’s normal for us, for sure. So if you’ve got kids around or are in public, you probably want to put on the headphones before listening.)