Rob Roy is the story of the Chief of the Scottish Clan MacGregor. Set in early 1700’s Liam Neeson plays Rob Roy, an honorable man who seeks only to protect his family and better his Clan. Towards this end he borrows money from Montrose (John Hurt) in hopes of making a go of purchasing and breeding cattle which the MacGregor Clan has heretofore only eked out a living protecting from rustling.
The borrowed money is stolen and Montrose offers Rob Roy an opportunity to wipe the debt clean if Rob Roy would falsely testify against one of Montrose’s competitors. Rob Roy refuses and what befalls the MacGregor clan and how Rob Roy fights to regain his honor and defend his family provides the bulk of the rest of the action. There are chases and intrigue, sword fights and near escapes.
But there is one thing that makes this movie stand apart in a way that, sadly, few movies do. Cunningham (Tim Roth), a brutal penniless aristocrat, is hired by Montrose to torment the MacGregors. Cunningham goes to the MacGregor estate and rapes Rob Roy’s wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), in an effort to provoke Rob Roy into an open fight. (Rightly) fearful her husband will hunt Cunningham down and probably get himself killed in the attempt to revenge her, she conceals the attack. Months later, while on the run, Rob Roy finds out about the rape. When he returns home Mary confesses she had thought to abort the baby (unfortunately abortion was not invented in the 1970’s) but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Rob Roy says: “It’s not the child that needs killing.” The baby – and I emphasize baby – is innocent. The child in the womb, created from a violent act of rape, is recognized as innocent. In this world there are no exceptions for rape (and presumably not incest). A child is a child. Such an acknowledgement is rare as hen’s teeth in a Hollywood film and a breath of fresh air in a culture that discards “surprise” children as one would a wart. Furthermore, as Rob Roy leaves his wife to go to an honor duel against Cunningham which will clear his name, and wipe the debt but almost certainly end in his death, Rob Roy tells Mary: If the baby is a boy name him after me, if a girl, name her after you. He not only recognizes this “product of rape” as an innocent human baby but with an open heart accepts the child into his family.
(Quick Quiz: There was another movie which dealt with a mistreated Scottish clan chief who was inspired to action by the abuse of the woman he loved. Made in the same year, 1995, it massively overshadowed Rob Roy, garnering 10 nominations and winning both Best picture and Best director, where Rob Roy only won a best supporting nomination for Tim Roth, which Roth didn’t even win. What was this other movie?)
The rest of Rob Roy is a great story too. Excellent historical drama. The cinematography is lovely. Filmed on location in Scotland the landscape is breathtaking. But this one intimate scene between Rob Roy and Mary at night in a cabin by a simple fire has always stuck in my mind as the most beautiful.
The language is occasionally coarse and there are some truly vulgar sexual scenes involving Cunningham. The scenes, including the rape, are not gratuitous as Cunningham is awful and these scenes define his loathsome character, but they are NOT for the kiddies. There are also some gory bits, including a man literally being cleaved in twain by a broadsword.
SO — I have, on occasion, simply shown my kids isolated appropriate scenes in movies that are otherwise too old for them. Those scenes would have to be worth the trouble, and the scene between this husband and wife who recognize the preciousness of infant human life irrelevant of origin or biological parentage is one of those scenes. Delicate and gentle in a movie full of cruel men and fierce retaliation, it is a small film unto itself.