First of all, though, I hope I may be forgiven taking a little time to explain why it has taken quite so long to write this. The explanation goes initially by way of release date. For a film set in Scotland and of such significance that our First Minister went to the U.S. premiere, the release date here was a matter of days before the end of the Scottish summer holidays. So Juniper Junior and I didn’t see the film until the end of September, when community cinema was in my hometown, a short way from where we are, and so, at last we saw the film with my mother. As to the time it has taken to begin writing, it is probably simplest to suggest a peek at the Caregiving series, as to where my time has gone.
So, in late September, Juniper Junior, Grandma Juniper and I settled down in a packed, if slightly cold, town hall to watch Brave. For reference of opinions that follow, Juniper Junior is five-and-a-half years old and the film was rated PG. I had hesitated a little as to whether or not to take him and there were certainly a handful of moments where he clambered onto my lap and became a little tearful, but — in a show of beautiful storytelling — the fear passed as the story progressed. Certainly, there have been no nightmares, and with the story resolved at the end, he found nothing to be scared of.
Oh dear, I’m rambling without having had the decency to say much of the story. Well, for starters, the film comes with the suggestion from Merida, the protagonist, of, “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?” There is also the suggestion that Merida’s story is a Scottish fairy tale, and I’ll admit, that when watching the film, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were similarities with the stories my mother used to read aloud from the great books of Celtic fairy tales.
In a way, it’s hard to say what the story of Brave is, because there are so many strands that come together to create a beautiful story. The main one, though, would be the relationship between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor. And, I’ll admit, it was an interesting story to watch with my mother so close by, too.
The difficulties between Merida and her mother don’t begin with the news of her betrothal but with how her mother has brought her up. Though the betrothal certainly kicks the action into gear.
Merida’s father, King Fergus, is in many ways a good father: he encourages Merida in her explorations and in her archery skills, but it becomes apparent that he is somewhat clueless when it comes to clan politics, whereas Queen Elinor is very aware of what is at stake. And so, Queen Elinor tries to mould her daughter into being the perfect princess. As might be evident, it doesn’t go down well. What else becomes apparent though, is that Merida isn’t perhaps aware of what her mother’s aims are and can, rather understandably, only see her mother as trying to make her life a misery.
It is when Merida uses her wit and archery skills that things go, shall we say, wrong.
She shows herself to be a far superior archer to her suitors (who, it has to be said, are going through a father and son version of what Merida is experiencing with her mother) but instead of praise, and the prize of her own hand in marriage, her mother, in a fit of anger, destroys her bow. Merida flees and Queen Elinor realises, perhaps for the first time, just what she’s been putting her daughter through.
This is where the “change your fate” part happens. The effects of Merida’s actions soon become very clear. And very furry.
This is where the relationship between mother and daughter really came into its own. At least, for me it did. And it was lovely to see a story where the mother and daughter had to work together, with both of them acknowledging what they have long needed to, in order to repair what had been damaged. When things start to go wrong again (the men having started to bang their chests and attempt to be manly men), Merida has to save her mother and in so doing learns something of Mor’du, the big bad bear, who tried to attack her family when she was a young child.
As for the ending, I think it’s simplest to say it was wonderful. The little strands of the story and the big one, too, were resolved, and in a way that felt… right.
For us, the film was a beautiful story of what it can mean to be brave. And bravery was something to be seen in all the characters, in different ways. It was also an interesting film to see with my mother, too, but interesting in a very good way. Brave also achieved — I think — a beautiful portrayal of Scotland. The standing stones had me whispering to my mother about when we visisted the Callanish Stones. And the landscapes, too, felt very familiar. It was also wonderful to have a film about Scotland that featured, for the most part, Scottish actors. The film is out on DVD and Blu-ray, and is, I think, well worth seeing. If not for Merida, then for Juniper Junior’s favourite part, “The three brothers!” Those triplets were pretty awesome, it has to be said.