– Mel Gibson
’s Oscar winning box office smash of 1995 tells the story of real life Scottish rebel and freedom fighter William Wallace. With savage battle scenes, a cast of thousands and a tragic love story at its heart, it is a sweeping historical epic brought to the screen with stunning photography set amongst the highlands of Scotland.
But ever since it was first shown historians have asked questions about the accuracy of the movie. No one doubts that William Wallace was a real historical character - as was Edward 1st, Robert the Bruce, and many others who feature in the film. But was he really the “ordinary joe” made good portrayed by Mel Gibson, and did his life unfold in the way Braveheart
Interviewing script-writer Randall Wallace we discover that the inspiration for the movie was the stories generated by an ancient Scottish poem about the life of Wallace. But an analysis by modern historian’s show that this poem, as much as any movie, was designed to create a legend rather than explain history.
Scottish medieval expert Fiona Watson sets out to discover the story of the historical Wallace. With little to go on but a few mentions in ancient manuscripts, a weather-beaten sword, an eroded seal and a remarkable letter sent to the German city of Lubeck in 1297, she peels back the layers of legend to paint a compelling portrait of a man who is nothing like his Hollywood counterpart. Instead of a simple swash-buckling hero who will never bow down to the English and who takes up arms because of a lost love, the real Wallace is a much darker, more complex character. Caught up in the politics of the age, for a while fortune smiles on the real Wallace, but then he is confronted by a greater power, which brings about his ultimate destruction – and future martyrdom.
Fiona is helped in her analysis by battlefield Historians Chris Brown and Michael Prestwich. They reveal just how the Scots triumphed against the odds to beat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and how the tables turned just a year later when the Scots were soundly beaten by the English King, Edward the 1st, at Falkirk.
Remarkable new archaeological finds from Stirling Castle reveal just how brutal medieval warfare was. And a series of unique experiments with weapons of the day – including medieval war bows -- are conducted by historian and weapons expert Mike Loades. These experiments graphically demonstrate the damage 13th century weapons could inflict, and they tell us just how accurate Braveheart
’s famous fight scenes really were.
NEXT: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND