Braveheart - then and now
We recently reported that there is a Braveheart TV adaptation currently in the works. I remember very clearly how much the story of William Wallace moved people when the film came out in 1995 and won Best Picture, and apparently even Mel Gibson’s career immolation has done nothing to tarnish Wallace’s legend.
Braveheart was a project of passion for screenwriter Randall Wallace, who I spoke to years ago on the eve of the release of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, which Wallace wrote.
The movie was credited with resurrecting the historical epic, and it was having the same last name that first inspired Randall to look into the history of William Wallace. Randall was a former seminarian who has a degree in religion, penned five books, and also wrote for television.
"I had hit a time in television in which I had experienced some success but hadn't really written the kinds of stories that I was most passionate about," Wallace says. "When the last show I had worked on got cancelled, I found myself without many opportunities in television, and decided to turn my attention to features."
As he related to a reporter, Randall was on a visit to Edinburgh in 1983 when he ran across a statue of William Wallace. "I thought how tragic this was," he said. "Here I was, an American of Scottish descent with exactly the same name, and I had never heard of him." Although he currently can’t prove it (then again, no one’s actually disproved it), Wallace does believe he is a descendent of William Wallace.
Braveheart was first set up at MGM, and another champion of the film was Alan Ladd Jr., who was Braveheart’s producer, and was also the head of 20th Century Fox who greenlit Star Wars. (At The Ladd Company, he also made Blade Runner).
Ladd was at MGM, then went to Paramount, and was allowed to take two projects with him. Braveheart was his first pick. Soon Mel Gibson was interested in directing the film with another actor playing Wallace. Yet as the proposed budget kept escalating, Gibson agreed to star and waived his acting and directing fees for a piece of the back-end.
Braveheart was a critical and box-office hit and it won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Backstage at the Oscars, Mel Gibson admitted he took a gamble with the film. "I saw all the epics as a kid," he said. "All the ‘Ben Hurs’ and all the ‘Spartaci.’Paramount didn’t think it would be a risk (making an epic), but I thought it would be a risk, especially sine I was directing."
Yet Wallace says, "It's far more risky to write something you don't believe in." And Braveheart’s message was the right one for a younger generation during a very cynical decade. "It’s amazing how many young people have responded to Braveheart," Wallace told DGA Magazine. "How hungry they are to be told, ‘Here is a choice, here is a man who would give his life for what he believed in.’ And that’s who they want to be."