Honour is a gift to yourself

Rob Roy

Another Scottish hero story, though adapted for Hollywood; it came out the same year as Braveheart and followed in the wake of Prince of Thieves. Bears no connection to Walter Scott’s novel.

“Rob Roy MacGregor has become the quintessential Highlander – a curious blend of patriot, freebooter, outlaw, and frontiersman; a man of honour who was also a bandit, a cattle-rustler and the chief of the protection racket….Rob Roy MacGregor was a frontiersman of his times, in that he and his clansmen lived in the frontier lands between Highlands and Lowlands – the Trossachs at Loch Lomond [Lomond is mentioned once or twice in the film]…the third son of the fifth chief of his clan…grew up to be immensely strong, with exceptionally long arms, and became renowned for his skill with the broadsword….Like so many Highlanders he was a Jacobite (Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Mangus Mangusson, pgs. 568-9).”

The Clan MacGregor had been outlawed by King James I (of England, VI of Scotland…a bit confusing) in 1603, so Rob actually used his mother’s clan name of Campbell. “To some he was nothing but highwayman and a gangster; to others he was a latter-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor, ambushing government troops and freeing their prisoners. He was captured on several occasions, but always managed to escape. His exploits became legendary for their audacity (pg. 570).” But the main plot points of the story are correct in the film. They made up one of the villains, Archibald Cunningham. Rob Roy was eventually pardoned and when he died, he was considered a hero. “In a treacherous age he had never betrayed a trust nor broken his word. He had always been his own man (pg. 571).”

Ironically, Irishman Liam Neeson was cast as the titular Scottish hero, Rob Roy (most famous as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Phantom Menace, the voice of Aslan in the recent Narnia movies, an action star in the Taken films, and the titular Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List [which I have not seen, not sure I want to, due to subject matter]. He played an famous Irishman in Michael Collins [I have seen, but it’s more political and confusing], Hannibal in the rebooted A-Team film, and Ducard in Batman Begins [and another funny note; years ago Disney had cast Scotsman Sean Connery to play an Irishman in Darby O’Gill and the Little People]). John Hurt (the War Doctor, Ollivander from Harry Potter, and the Great Dragon from Merlin) is the Marquis Montrose, Tim Roth (Emil Blonksy in The Incredible Hulk, which is part of the MCU and the villainous Febre in The Musketeer) is Archibald Cunningham – he wears foppish clothes, but you know he really wants to be wearing black. Andrew Keir (who has a filmography going back to the fifties, including the epic Cleopatra) is the Duke of Argyll and Brian Cox (we just saw him in Braveheart amongst his other movies) is Killearn.

The opening of the film tells of the hard times in Scotland; “this story symbolises the attempt of the individual…to retain respect and honour.” Rob Roy and his kilted men are chasing other Highlanders who stole cattle from the Marquis of Montrose. Rob kills their leader to prevent further bloodshed. He also has it in his mind to ask the Marquis for a loan, in order to turn a profit on another herd of cattle. The Marquis has already butted heads with the Duke of Argyll (Duke outranks Marquis). Montrose’s ward (maybe nephew?), Archibald Cunningham bests the Dukes champion…because English nobility like to wager on two Scotsmen fighting each other for sport. Montrose’s right hand man, Killearn, has an idea involving Archibald and Rob’s money. Instead of the promised creditor note, Killearn gives Rob’s chosen man a bag of coin (making it easier to steal and more dangerous to transport). Then Archibald lies in wait and ends up killing the poor man; Archibald in place due to Killearn’s scheme. When Rob does not receive the money, he has to go before the Marquis again. Montrose will waive the debt, if Rob agrees to swear that the Duke of Argyll is a Jacobite.

rob-roy

Historical note: Jacobites supported the Stuart claim to the throne of Scotland and England, meaning James Stuart and his descendants. In 1603, when Elizabeth I died without an heir, the line of succession picked up with the offspring of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, who had married James IV of Scotland. They had a son, James V, who had a daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots [a contemporary of Elizabeth and there’s a whole story there], who had a son, James VI. Thus, he ascended the throne, joining the two crowns. This began the reign of the Stuarts in England. His son, Charles I, ascended at James’ death. Charles was executed for treason and Oliver Cromwell stepped in (hated by many…there are murals of the Irish hatred of him). His son, Charles II was eventually restored to the throne. After him was his son, James II, but he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. This is when the famous Jacobite uprisings occurred, sporadically from 1689 to 1759 [the film states it takes place in 1713], again, think Outlander. The Jacobites wanted James II, or his son back on the throne. Instead, English parliament awarded his Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne joint rule. Mary died and her husband ruled for a while until his death, then Anne took the throne. Though Anne had seventeen pregnancies, none of her children survived, which is when this story takes place. If we continue on, since England wished to remain Protestant, despising Catholics (thank you, Henry VIII), none of Anne’s Catholics relatives (like those in Scotland) could claim the throne, thus picking up the line of Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth and through her picked up the Hanover title, leading to George I (of many George’s) and thus the House of Hanover. Yes, it’s all quite complicated and I barely understand it since it was never properly covered in my undergraduate history courses. I obviously know of the Jacobite rebellions and support them (thank you, Scottish romances) and England needs to keep its nose out of Scotland’s business. To sum it up, political tensions are bubbling and the English and Scottish don’t like each other.

Carrying on: Rob refuses to bear false witness as it would be dishonorable for him; he doesn’t care about the Duke. Montrose shouldn’t be so shocked; it would be breaking a commandment, but he calls for Rob’s arrest. Rob escapes and takes to the hills. Cunningham is given permission to hunt him down and starts at Rob’s home. His wife, Mary, sends their boys for help, while Cunningham (and Killearn watches) burns the land, shoots the cattle, and rapes Mary. Killearn has the gall to tell her as she proudly holds her head high amongst English soldiers, “they say it’s not a sin if you don’t take pleasure in it.” Rob’s younger brother finally runs in to try to pick a fight once the soldiers leave. Mary tries to wash Archibald off her and the brother is horrified. She insists that Rob is not to be told; it’s what they want, it will only get her husband killed. “If I can bear it to be done, you can bear to be silent!”

In retaliation, Rob and his men steal Montrose’s cattle and rent and hurt him in his purse. Honestly, Montrose has suspicions of what Cunningham and Killearn cooked up, but he does not want his name mocked. A serving girl that Cunningham got pregnant reveals what she knows to Mary when Cunningham does nothing about the baby. Rob takes Killearn and plans to hold his own trial, with the serving girl as a witness. But she’s desperately in love with Cunningham and kills herself. Mary tries to reason with the man and he attempts to turn the tables on her. She cuts his neck, terribly wounding him. The brother aids Killearn in drowning. Retributions escalate. The brother fires on soldiers who are plundering the Highlands. He’s shot for his trouble and reveals Mary’s secret to Rob before he dies. Rob tries to escape, but is ultimately captured by Cunningham. He’s taken, bleeding and worn to Montrose. Montrose, who really does know what kind of man Cunningham is, orders Rob to be hung. Rob tries to hang Cunningham instead and escapes into the river.

In the meantime, Mary has gone to the Duke of Argyll for help. Since Rob won’t stand against the Duke for Montrose, Argyll will help. He offers protection to the outlaw and when Rob returns home, he arranges a meeting between Rob and Cunningham. Mary admits to Rob about the baby; she can’t know who the father is (she and Rob are shown in a very loving (cough cough) relationship. Rob seems alright with the baby, even telling his children that an addition is on its way. Argyll makes an agreement with Montrose, if Rob wins, the debt is called off, if he loses, Argyll will pay the amount and the matter will be settled. Cunningham holds the advantage most of the duel, staying out of reach of Rob and landing damaging hits. But he allows Rob the chance to grab his sword when Cunningham has him at his mercy and lands a deep blow to Cunningham, killing him. Rob returns home.

My feelings on Rob Roy; I found it long after I was already in love with Scottish history. It fits right in the time period I am used to reading but since it deals more with Rob’s grievances against Montrose and Cunningham, I just don’t get into it. Admittedly, the duel at the end is very cool. It’s well done and has a good cast; I just don’t swoon (unlike certain parts of Outlander; but it’s against probably due to the difference in genre).  Another interesting note; at several points in the film, they use O’Sullivan’s March, an Irish tune.  Aye, Scottish and Irish music do share many similarities, but why could they not find a Scottish tune to use for a film about a Scottish hero?

Next Time: Carrying on to the latter 18th century with The Duchess

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