Randall Wallace wrote the screenplay for Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’.
The film about the Scots freedom fighter, William Wallace.
In an interview, he was asked about the script’s accuracy.
He said of course it wasn’t accurate, this was Hollywood, he wanted an exciting film not a history lesson.
He said he started with the basic facts but embellished the story to make it more interesting.
Actually, that’s not quite true.
He didn’t start with the basic facts.
He started with an account by a minstrel called ‘Blind Harry’ written in 1477.
So it was actually written 172 years after William Wallace died.
And there were no books or written history, to check the facts.
Just rumours and songs that had themselves been embellished.
So Blind Harry did exactly what Randall Wallace did.
He retold the story, making it more interesting for his audience.
Blind Harry did a Hollywood in fact.
After all, he had to compete with stories like Beowulf, which had ogres and dragons and magic.
So Blind Harry made William Wallace over seven feet tall.
He had him escape capture by disguising himself as a monk, an old lady, and a potter, and travel to France to defeat two French champions and a lion.
Very exciting stuff and much more interesting than the truth.
For instance, Blind Harry made William Wallace the hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
But at Stirling Bridge, Andrew Moray was in command of the Scots, not William Wallace.
The English outnumbered the Scots three-to-one as they crossed the narrow bridge.
Andrew Moray allowed a third of them to cross then slaughtered them.
The remainder turned and ran, straight back into the advancing troops.
The weight and the panic caused the bridge to collapse.
The English soldiers in their armour drowned, and the remainder ran.
But Andrew Moray was killed in the fighting.
So Blind Harry made William Wallace the victor of Stirling Bridge.
He also made him the victor of the Battle of Loudoun Hill.
But at Loudoun Hill it was Robert the Bruce who defeated the English, not William Wallace.
In fact Robert the Bruce did it two years after William Wallace died.
But Blind Harry’s story was more exciting and captured everyone’s imagination.
So the ‘basic facts’ that Hollywood started from weren’t facts at all.
But that didn’t stop Hollywood adding a few more.
Like the love affair between William Wallace and Queen Isabella.
Which would have been difficult because Isabella was 10 years old and living in France at the time Wallace died.
But propaganda mythologizes history.
And we can learn from that.
Because advertising is basically propaganda.
Bill Bernbach said it in a way Blind Harry would have agreed with.
“The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you.
And they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying.
And they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you.
And they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting.
And you won’t be interesting unless you say it imaginatively, originally, freshly.”