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29 October 2014
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Scottish Wars of Independence

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A scene from BraveheartBRAVEHEART

Mel Gibson's 1995 film 'Braveheart' shot William Wallace into the public eye and imagination. Before Braveheart, most people knew very little about this period of history. Since the film was made, there can be few Scots who haven't heard the name William Wallace or his cry of "Freedom!"

The film made £109 million at the box office and won five Oscars including Best Picture. The tourist industry in Scotland thrived as a result of the so-called Braveheart effect and visitor numbers to the Wallace Monument doubled in the summer following the film's release. In Scotland, there was also a nasty side-effect to the film, as some English audience members were insulted and attacked.

However, the film has been criticised for its lack of historical accuracy and many people think it's fact, not fiction. Ten years after its release, readers of Empire film magazine voted it the worst 'Best Film' Oscar winner.

Dr Louise Yeoman, Historian and broadcaster

'Braveheart' is a box office hit, but it's not history! Big Hollywood films usually go for lots of action and a bit of love interest. If they don't find what they want in the history, they just make it up. 'Braveheart' used some stories from a medieval poet called Blind Harry, who wrote about William Wallace, but Harry was more concerned about annoying the English and making out that Wallace was the greatest hero who ever lived, than with checking the facts. The good thing is that the film excited people all over the world…the bad thing is that it tells them a lot of things about William Wallace that are just legends.

Professor Edward Cowan, University of Glasgow

The American scriptwriter of Braveheart based his story on an old poem written 200 years after William Wallace's execution. The poet Blind Harry wasn't blind and his name might not even have been Harry, but his poem reflected the values of his time. Different generations have done the same, rewriting the story for a new audience so that, over time, Wallace became a legend rather than a real person. In the 1990s the film Braveheart coincided with a new confidence in Scottish culture and politics – although this was maybe a coincidence. One thing is certain – William Wallace was well known before the film and he'll be remembered long after Braveheart is forgotten!


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