Overlooked & Underseen: Rob Roy (1995)
Once upon a time, in the spring of 1995, there were two movies released within a few weeks of each other that were both about legendary Scottish heroes. One was received with huge critical acclaim and went on to win five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. The other sorta got lost in the shuffle, although it, too, also received good notices (and one Oscar nomination). 'Tis a pity one is all but forgotten because Rob Roy is a fine film and doesn’t deserve being a footnote in 1995 Scottish hero movies.
Rob Roy McGregor (Liam Neeson) is the chief of his clan. He is protector over all of them and takes this very seriously. His job is to make sure the sheep of local farmers/landowners are safe from predators, both animal and human. His people are beginning to starve, so McGregor decides to take a £1,000 loan from one of the local aristocrats, the Marquess of Montrose (John Hurt). He is going to use the money to buy cattle and try to sell it for a higher price. His wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), isn’t happy about the loan but she goes along with it for the sake of the clan.
Montrose has a guest staying with him, Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), a.k.a. one of the most repellant characters to ever appear in film. He was sent up to Scotland to live with Montrose because he had disgraced his family back in London. Cunningham, in debt himself, learns about McGregor’s loan through Montrose’s right hand man, Killearn (Brian Cox). Killearn is just as bad Cunningham so the two conspire to steal the money from McGregor. In the process, they commit murder.
McGregor knows some foul play is afoot. Montrose doesn’t care, though. He immediately calls in the loan knowing McGregor can’t pay. Montrose tells him he’ll forget the money if he’ll give false testimony against his rival, Duke of Argyll (Andrew Keir). McGregor tells him to fuck off, he’ll lie for no man. McGregor goes on the run which leaves his homestead and family unprotected. Cunningham is put in charge of finding McGregor and, in doing so, proves he is the worst person in Scotland.
Eventually, McGregor and Cunningham are brought together to fight a duel to the death. If McGregor wins, Montrose will forgive the debt and if Cunningham wins, Argyll will pay the debt. In one of the best sword fights you’ll ever seen on screen, the two men battle it out to where only one man stands. It’s pretty obvious who wins, but, c’mon it’s worth watching the movie just to get to this satisfying result.
I prefer this movie over Braveheart. I was never a big Mel Gibson fan (especially him as a person) but I can appreciate his effort. I just find Rob Roy the much more interesting film. It’s more a throwback to earlier Hollywood adventure films. The pacing is slow for 1995, certainly much more now, but it works. The music, by Carter Burwell, is lovely. The locations are gorgeous. I’ve been to Scotland in winter and felt that cold. This movie manages to make me feel that again. Brrrr.
Tim Roth rightfully deserved his Oscar nomination for this movie (he lost that year to Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects). His turn as the foul Cunningham was like one of the villains kids used to boo at when they’d go to a Saturday afternoon matinee. Jessica Lange is wonderful here as McGregor’s long suffering wife. She’s stronger than all the men in this movie put together. Really, the whole cast is terrific. My one complaint is Eric Stoltz's (?!) accent and, really, all things considered, it is a minor one at that.
Rob Roy is available on Blu-ray and is available for rent on a few different streaming services so when you find yourself in the mood for a good old-fashioned adventure movie, why don’t you give this one a whirl? Let’s get this movie from out of the shadow of that other Scottish movie from 1995.