Skip to main content

Is it just me, or is Braveheart's Longshanks the best villain ever?

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

According to 1995’s Braveheart (opens in new tab), King Edward I – aka Longshanks – was “the most ruthless king ever to sit on the throne of England.”

Patrick McGoohan’s performance more than lives up to the billing: a masterclass by a multi-talented actor in his last major film role. And yet, just as McGoohan was snubbed by awards bodies at the time, so Longshanks has been long overlooked by those compiling ‘Best Villain’ lists. Let’s redress the balance.

Longshanks pursues his goals - power for power’s sake; crushing all who oppose him – with a rapacity that puts the likes of Thanos to shame. It took the Mad Titan three whole Phases of the MCU to achieve his aim of retiring to a cottage (opens in new tab). Yet in a mere 20-ish minutes, McGoohan demonstrates unfathomable cunning, cruelty and cold brutality, all while schooling his inept son-successor. 

He’s capable of being a tactical mastermind, heartless bastard and tight git all at once. After hiring Irish mercenaries to fight, he’s asked by an underling if the archers should be deployed. Longshanks’ reply? “Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish, the dead cost nothing.” As The Joker would say, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.” (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: LucasFilm/Disney)

Longshanks is a leader who extends the olive branch to his enemies, then hangs them from the rafters. He’s an expert manipulator, sending Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) to negotiate peace when he’s already dispatched troops to outflank the enemy. He bribes with titles and land those he can’t defeat by force. 

And he does it all without giving a toss what anyone else thinks. Even Die Hard’ (opens in new tab)s Hans Gruber listened to his team. When the Prince’s ‘secret’ boyfriend offers his two pennyworth, ’shanks asks the room: “Who is this person who speaks to me as though I needed his advice?” And then he chucks the guy out a window to his death.

He’s a snake, plotting, scheming and spurning every offer of redemption. Even Darth Vader repented at the last minute. But on his own deathbed, Longshanks is “incapable of mercy”, preferring to leave a legacy of fear. 

The movie’s hero, William Wallace, may defiantly bellow “freedom”, but it’s while he’s having his giblets cut out. Clearly, the victor in the battle is Longshanks… or is it just me?

Each month our sister publication Total Film magazine (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)argues a polarising movie opinion and gives you the opportunity to agree or disagree. Let us know what you think about this one in the comments below and read on for more.

Paul Tanter is a British director, writer, and producer. He produces and directs the cult Amazon Prime series Age of the Living Dead, and Fox's No Easy Days. He has also written, directed, and produced over 15 feature films, alongside several graphic novels. He's also written about movies for publications including Total Film, Digital Filmmaker, and Film Stories Magazine.