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20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'

It's been 25 years since Mel Gibson's epic Scottish tale debuted in 1995.

Paramount | 20th Century Fox

In 1995, Apollo 13 was the movie to beat at the Academy Awards. Producer Brian Grazer remembers Sidney Poitier announcing the winner and the first two letters of his name, "Br..." rolling off the legendary actor's tongue. But it was not to be. Poitier was saying "Braveheart" instead.

An unlikely Best Picture winner, Braveheart was heavily criticized for being almost wholly inaccurate when it was released in May of 1995. But the critics also judged the film on its own merits, for what it was, not what it wasn't. And anyone with eyeballs could see the movie was a master class in epic filmmaking. The battle scenes in Braveheart are still unmatched today and it's hard to deny the dramatic liberties taken as anything less than moving.

Director Mel Gibson's career may have peaked with Braveheart. Troubles in the press would soon follow, but the filmmaker and superstar won the hearts of many with his sweeping biopic of Scottish hero William Wallace. It's frequently cited on movie fans' top 10 lists and it paved the way for the two hour plus epics we watch today.

Despite its inaccuracies (some of which are mentioned below) it's impossible not to fall for the passion, legend, and romance of the 1995 Best Picture winner. Now, to celebrate Braveheart's 25th anniversary, here are 20 things you probably never knew about the production, the actors, writers, and Gibson himself:

1. "Braveheart" was actually the nickname of Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace. When the film came out, many Scots were offended by the portrayal of The Bruce (played by Angus Macfadyen as a traitor), who is considered a National Hero of Scotland (as is Wallace).

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox

2. In an October 2009 interview with The Daily Mail, director and star Mel Gibson admitted Braveheart was heavily fictitious and claimed the changes had been made for dramatic effect. He also admitted he always felt he was too old to play Wallace. Gibson was nearly 40 during shooting, playing a character who was supposed to be in his twenties.

3. Gibson originally wanted Jason Patric to play Wallace, but was forced into the role when studios wouldn't finance the film without him starring. Warner Brothers offered the money, but only if Gibson agreed to another Lethal Weapon sequel. The actor refused. 

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox | Tumblr

4. Mechanical horses were created for the battle sequences. They weighed 200 pounds and were fueled by nitrogen cylinders which propelled them at 30 mph on 20-foot tracks. During shooting, Gibson was investigated by an animal welfare organization who were convinced the fake horses were real. Only when one of his assistants provided some videotaped footage of the location shooting were they convinced otherwise. Gibson has said he would give five dollars to anyone who could spot the fake horses in the final film.  

5. When asked by a local Scot why the Battle of Stirling Bridge was filmed on an open plain, Gibson told him, "The bridge got in the way." "Aye," the local answered. "That's what the English found."

6. The extras used for the battle scenes were mostly members of the F.C.A., the Irish version of the territorial army. As members were drawn from many different army companies, local rivalries were common. Reportedly, some of the battle scenes seen in Braveheart are more realistic than it would seem, with rival companies actually using the occasion to carry out grudges for real. The rough cut of the film initially contained much more violence than the final product. Fearing an NC-17 from the MPAA after negative test reaction, Gibson edited some of the film's most graphic scenes.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox

7. Several of the major battle scenes had to be re-shot, as extras were seen wearing sunglasses and wristwatches.

8. The notion Wallace's time with Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau) led to the conception of Edward III is false. The prince was born almost ten years after Wallace died.

9. Wallace's famous line: "Every man dies — not every man really lives" was authored by a 19th Century American Poet named William Ross Wallace, famous for writing the poem The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World. He's of no relation to the real William Wallace.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox | Tumblr

10. Screenwriter Randall Wallace had been visiting Edinburgh in 1983 to learn about his heritage when he came across a statue of William Wallace outside Edinburgh Castle. He had never heard of the 14th century figure who shared his name, but was intrigued enough by stories about him to research as much as possible.

11. The film correctly depicts the father of Robert the Bruce suffering from leprosy in his later years. The disease would claim the son too. Robert the Bruce died of leprosy in the 1320s.

12. Among the movies Gibson watched in order to prepare for Braveheart were Roman Polanski's Macbeth, Spartacus, Chimes at Midnight, Alexander Nevsky, A Man for All Seasons, The Lion in Winter, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and he also watched NFL Films.

13. King Edward I was actually called "Longshanks" (which means "long legs") because he was uncommonly tall for a man of the time at at least 6' 2".

14. Primae noctis, the Lordly right that gets Murron (Catherine McCormack) killed, has never been used in the entire history of the British Isles. It would have encouraged rebellions in newly-conquered territories that were already difficult to govern.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox

15. Despite the film being set in Scotland, and based on the life of a Scottish folk hero, the primary instruments heard throughout the soundtrack (most notably at William's father's funeral) are the Uilleann pipes, which are a smaller, traditionally Irish version of bagpipes as opposed to the more accurate Great Highland Bagpipe.

16. Writer Randall Wallace had very little historical evidence to work with in regard to William Wallace's life. He's noted that even Winston Churchill's definitive work A History of the English Speaking Peoples observed in a single line that virtually no factual material survives about the Scottish leader. Because of this, the screenwriter relied heavily on a 15th century romantic poem by Scottish writer Henry the Minstrel ("Blind Harry") in constructing his story.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox | Tumblr

17. The sacking of York was invented for the movie. Wallace never got as far south as York during his invasion of northern England.

18. Prince Edward (Peter Hanly) was indeed the first English prince to carry the title Prince of Wales, but he didn't marry Princess Isabella until 1308, after both Wallace (1305) and Edward I (1307) had died.

19. Blue body paint (dye from woad) in battle had stopped being used around the end of the Roman era, roughly 800 years before the events of the film.

20. Gibson was supposed to star in director Terry Gilliam's film A Tale of Two Cities (which was never made) but turned it down for Braveheart. He even offered his movie to Gilliam to direct, which the director obviously declined.

Bonus: Gibson refused to grow a beard in order to play Wallace.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Braveheart'
Paramount | 20th Century Fox

[Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015.]

[Big h/t to IMDb and Wikipedia]

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