For most viewers, the 1995 movie Braveheart was a rousing, five-Oscar-winning adventure of blue-faced men in kilts wielding the bloody instruments of medieval warfare. But in Scotland, Mel Gibson’s film about freedom fighter William Wallace helped spawn a genuine political awakening. On Sept. 12, the country resoundingly voted in favor of ”devolution,” a historic baby step toward independence from England that gives Scots the right to elect their own parliament. And through it all, the image of Gibson — er, Wallace — has loomed large.
The independence movement in Scotland has been dormant since the English took over after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, but Braveheart gave it new life. And the film is as hot as when it was released two years ago. ”It’s never stopped being popular,” notes Douglas Curry, manager of a Blockbuster in Edinburgh. ”People are prepared to watch this one again and again.” Before the vote, posters bearing Gibson’s visage and his rebel yell, ”Freedom,” sprouted around the country, and the ”Braveheart ticket” at the polls became the talk of the pubs. ”The movie has become a sort of shorthand for autonomy,” says Tim Edensor, a lecturer in cultural studies at Staffordshire University.
At Stirling — site of the 1297 battle at which Wallace’s ragtag band of Scots whupped the English army — a 13-foot statue of Wallace was just unveiled, and it bears a suspicious resemblance to a certain Hollywood actor. The statue’s creator, Tom Church, says inspiration struck after he saw Braveheart. ”I’m probably a right patriot,” says Church, a 52-year-old stonemason from Brechin. ”I just felt I had to pay my tribute to the movie.” As for its looking like Gibson, Church admits, ”It does — although I think that’s a good thing.”
Gibson’s spokesman has no comment. But some of the film’s other creators are somewhat shocked at what they have wrought. ”People tell me, ‘You wrote this movie, and now Scotland is free,”’ says screenwriter Randall Wallace, no relation to William. ”[But] I’m not looking to be involved in a political situation.” Mainly he tries to keep a low profile for fear of being swamped by enthusiastic fans. The Scots, notes Wallace dryly, ”are extremely motivated about this movie.”