To the editor:
After reading Anthony Puccinelli's review of Braveheart [June 9], I am left wondering what movie was he watching and with whom?
I realize that reviewers may miss details while taking notes in a dark theater, but it would be worthwhile to avoid revealing how much of the film one has missed when writing the review. For example, Puccinelli writes, "When Wallace's wife violently resists [an English policy requiring brides to sleep with the local lord], she's tied to a stake and threatened with execution." Actually, she resists an attempted rape by a loutish soldier who is not attempting to carry out the offending policy on his lord's behalf.
Later, Puccinelli asserts that "Wallace [played by Mel Gibson] seems to be the only Scotsman who wears short sleeves, probably because Gibson associates heroism with muscle." If Reader reviewers aren't going to be required to pay close attention to the films they are writing on, they ought to at least glance at the publicity stills sent with their press packets: the one printed with Puccinelli's review shows Gibson next to another actor, who got plenty of screen time as one of Wallace's lieutenants, both of them wearing identically short-sleeved tunics. A number of bare arms, presumably belonging to Scots, are visible in the background, as they were throughout the film.
Such trivial details meant little to my enjoyment of the film, but bungling them tends to undermine the credibility of a reviewer. What little of that he had left, Puccinelli threw away with statements like, "Is Braveheart historically accurate? The narrator charges that history is written by hangmen, so probably not." Actually, a cursory glance at a couple of basic texts could have answered the question, at least at the level of sophistication exhibited here (the answer is, yes in the essentials, no in many details and some chronology).
Such a glance might also have shed some light on the currently infamous portrayal in the film of Edward II, which may be "problematic" but not in the senses that Puccinelli implies. The historical facts are that Edward II was gay and was also a miserable excuse for a crown prince and monarch; and while those facts have no particular relationship to one another, they had a major bearing on the story which Braveheart presents.
As for the scene in which Edward I abruptly heaves his son's lover to his death, I would be curious as to where Puccinelli found an audience that "laughs" at this. The audience I saw it with certainly did not; rather, an audible gasp was heard, and the scene was quite effective in driving home Edward I's cold ruthlessness, which was an essential element of his character and the story.
As to whether "wearing a skirt . . . causes a man to question his manhood," I have no idea; however as we saw in the movie, it does allow one to moon one's enemy across the battlefield, something the audience I was in did laugh at. I believe that was the intended reaction.
Anthony Puccinelli replies:
Whether or not Edward I actually heaved his son's lover out a window is a matter of dispute. An article in the June 13th Village Voice denies it happened. The only bearing Edward II's homosexuality has on the story Braveheart presents is that it sends the sexually neglected Princess Isabella into the arms of William Wallace, who had been executed more than two years prior to her marriage to Edward II. So much for the movie's being historically accurate in its essentials. I apologize for my mistake concerning sleeve length.