According to 1995’s Braveheart, 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. 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.”
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’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?
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