Scots patriot William Wallace raises an army, busts Sassenach heads and shags the Princess of Wales.
Inhospitable locations, a massive cast, a bum-numbing three-hour length, mud-strewn 13th Century decor, phalanxes of horses, kilts, beards, broadswords and battle scenes on a scale not seen since Spartacus and El Cid. Mel Gibson, it seems, is not one to balk at a challenge the size of the Caledonians.
For his second directorial venture the star has elected to delve into the past, namely Scottish folk hero William Wallace, whose sprawling story would give the hardiest of directors the jitters. Such is El Gibbo's accomplishment, however, that Braveheart can stand shoulder to armour-clad shoulder with the aforementioned slices of epic.
Randall Wallace's decade-engulfing script - managing successfully to skirt potential melodrama - charts instead his namesake's heroic struggle from the childhood loss of his pa and bro' at the hands of the double-crossing English, through his wooing of the adorable McCormack, to the horrific events that turn him from peaceable farmer to blood-thirsty warrior. From then on - and the bulk of this gripping tapestry of medieval gung ho - he is in a perpetual state of war. An almighty rebellion is mapped out via a set of searingly intense battle scenes, the political treachery of the lords in residence, the connivings of the merciless English King, Edward Longshanks (a splendidly corrupt McGoohan) and the eventual betrayal of all that he stood for (freedom, honour etc.).
What is so evident among Braveheart's earthy hugeness is Gibson's self-belief. As actor he is majestic - his locks extended to a mighty hazel mane, his Hollywood good looks set like the face of Ben Nevis, his Highland accent surprisingly authentic - fearlessly accessing the man's consuming battle frenzy as much as his glowing heroism. As director he is passionate and controlled - harnessing the thousands of extras to create the awesome in-yer-face battle scenes, free-flowing with decapitatory and limb-lopping enthusiasm, while drawing sparkling performances from his cast, be they mud-caked, kilt-lifting warriors or preened maidens. The haunting loveliness of McCormack and the silver-tongued grace of Marceau as the forlorn Princess of Wales add welcome softness to the furore.
It's a long, torrid journey, with some of the many subplots left dangling, and is, predictably, historically suspect, but it is to the film's benefit that Gibson plays up the legend at the expense of accuracy (but never realism). He dares you to lose yourself in a world of breathtaking beauty, resonating brutality and rip-roaringly good storytelling. There's no alternative but to surrender.