Within the first hour of the Netflix film Outlaw King – a take on the Scottish Wars of Independence, following Robert the Bruce (played by Wonder Woman Hollywood heart-throb Chris Pine) as he battles against the English – we see the following: a severed leg nailed to a cross, the sudden and needless firing of a very expensive-looking catapult, symbolic thistle-based foreplay, a friendly-but-not-actually-friendly duel to remind us of underlying tensions, a very raucous wedding, a very feminist Princess standing up for the weak, and a healthy dose of full-frontal male nudity.
If it sounds like Outlaw King is trying to be Game of Thrones that’s because it is, only without the shocking twists. It’s the male nudity that has generated headlines – New York Magazine’s culture website Vulture ran a piece titled simply: “How to See Chris Pine’s Penis in Outlaw King”. As a serious and moving depiction of a great struggle in British history, it fails – but as fun historical melodrama, it succeeds. It features two rising stars of British film: Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, The Little Drummer Girl) and Billy Howle (The Sense of An Ending, On Chesil Beach). Howle is the cast member who best leans in to the film’s overblown style. He is hammy and brilliant, wearing a hideous bowl cut as Edward, a power-hungry, cruel and cowardly prince who shouts things such as “SHUT UP, YOU SNIVELLING FOOL.”
Don’t be duped by anyone selling Outlaw King as earnest political drama: there are no great insights or well-drawn characters here. It’s silly, over the top and absurd. When it embraces that – as when Howle grabs two dead swans by the neck and screams “BY THESE SWANS” – it’s great entertainment for a gloomy November night.
This article appears in the 14 Nov 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How the Brexiteers broke history