In an October 2009 interview with "The Daily Mail", Mel Gibson admitted that the film was heavily fictitious, but claimed the changes had been made for dramatic purposes. He also admitted he had always felt he was at least a decade too old to play Wallace.
Mel Gibson initially turned down the role of William Wallace, as he felt he was too old for the part. However, Paramount Pictures would only finance the film if Gibson played the lead role, so he agreed.
One of the film's weary extras reportedly mistook one of Mel Gibson's children on the set for an errand boy, and asked him to bring a cup of tea. Gibson was within earshot, and nodded and whispered to his son, "Go get it."
The extras used for the battle scenes were mostly members of the F.C.A., the reserve Irish Army (there were as many as 1600 used). As they were drawn from many different army companies, and the members of these are usually drawn from the same locality, local rivalry between such companies is common. Apparently some of the battle scenes are far more realistic then one would imagine, with rival companies actually using the occasion to try the beat the lard out of each other.
Mel Gibson was on the set of Ransom (1996) when Braveheart (1995) and Apollo 13 (1995) were nominated for Best Picture. He pulled a prank on "Apollo 13" director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer by giving them an ad that claimed "Braveheart" was considered for "Best Moon Shot". The accompanying picture was a shot of the Scottish army mooning the English.
Mel Gibson was investigated by an animal welfare organization, which was convinced that the fake horses used were real. Only when one of Gibson's assistants provided some videotaped footage of the location shooting were they convinced otherwise.
"Primae noctis"--"the right of first night", in which a nobleman has the right to have sex with the bride of an ordinary common man on her wedding night--has never been used in the entire history of Britain or Ireland. It would have encouraged rebellions in newly-conquered territories that were already difficult to govern. The practice was more common on the continent, notably France.
Screenwriter Randall Wallace initially planned to start the story with William Wallace as an adult, and added the prologue of his childhood only as an afterthought. As the sequence was first written, Murron gave William a rose (rather than a thistle) at his father's burial. However, someone who read the script helpfully pointed out that the rose, being a traditional symbol of England, would be (to say the least) somewhat inappropriate as a prominent feature in the story.
Wallace's two most trusted captains throughout the film are Hamish, who is Scottish, and Stephen, who is Irish. Hamish was played by Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and Stephen by Scottish actor David O'Hara.
Randall Wallace had been visiting Edinburgh in 1983 to learn about his heritage when he came across a statue of William Wallace outside Edinburgh Castle. He had never heard of the 14th-century figure who shared his name, but was intrigued enough by the stories told to him about "Scotland's greatest hero" to research the story as much as possible.
The rough cut of the film initially contained much more violence than the final product. Fearing an NC-17 from the MPAA after negative test reaction, Mel Gibson went back and personally edited some of the film's most graphic scenes to show the brutality more off-screen.
Mel Gibson later said regarding this film, "Some people said that in telling the story we messed up history. It doesn't bother me because what I'm giving you is a cinematic experience, and I think films are there first to entertain, then teach, then inspire. There probably were historical inaccuracies--quite a few. But maybe there weren't, who's to say, because there was very little history about the man. It wasn't necessarily authentic. In some of the stuff I read about him, he wasn't as nice as he was on film. We romanticized it a bit, but that's the language of film--you have to make it cinematically acceptable. Actually, he was a monster--he always smelled of smoke because he was always burning people's villages down. He was like what the Vikings called a 'berserker'. But we kind of shifted the balance a bit, because somebody's got to be the good guy and somebody the bad guy, and every story has its own point of view. That was our bias."
Glen Nevis, the Scottish valley which served as the location for Wallace's childhood village, also enjoys the heaviest rainfall in Europe. During the six weeks spent filming in the area, only three days of sunshine occurred, during which the wedding scene was finished. The filmmakers resigned themselves to the fact that constant rain was inevitable, and opted to film scenes regardless of weather conditions.
Prince Edward (later King Edward II) was indeed the first English prince to carry the title Prince of Wales, although he did not marry Princess Isabella until 1308, after both Wallace (1305) and Edward I (1307) had died.
In actuality the Irish fought against Wallace. It was decided to show the Irish joining forces with the Scots as modern audiences might have found it confusing to see the Irish on the same side as the English.
Mel Gibson, a notorious jokester, directed some scenes in an Elmer Fudd voice and even yelled, "CUT!" during Murron's funeral scene by putting his arm around the actress playing her mother and hollering, "Will you put a sock in it!" This caused the actress to go from crying in character to break character and laugh. Gibson also intentionally started a false rumor that Sophie Marceau was the daughter of noted French mime Marcel Marceau.
The Gaelic chant is "Alba gu brath", which means "Scotland forever". Although Wallace was a Lowlander, many of his troops were Highlanders and a large part of the Lowlands were still speaking Gaelic at this time in history.
When the members of Clan MacGregor attempt to join Wallace's rebellion against the English, the MacGregor chieftain mildly insults Wallace and his men by calling them "Amadans". "Amadan" is both Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic for "fool" or "idiot". Thus, the MacGregor chieftain is calling Wallace and his men fools, both for resisting the English and for not inviting the MacGregors to participate in the rebellion.
At the Battle of Falkirk (July 22, 1298), the English army was personally led by King Edward I, who decisively defeated the Scots. The real-life King Edward I was a military genius who learned combat tactics while fighting the Mamelukes--a Muslim military caste--in the MIddle East during the Eighth and Ninth crusades.
Randall Wallace had very little historical evidence to work with in regard to William Wallace's life. He has noted that even Winston Churchill's definitive work "A History of the English Speaking Peoples" observed in only a single line that virtually no factual material survives about the Scottish leader. Because of this, Randall Wallace relied heavily on a fifteenth century romantic poem by Scottish writer Henry the Minstrel ("Blind Harry") in constructing his story.
Thin layers of latex were used to attach set elements to the ruins of Trim Castle in Ireland to give it an appearance more befitting its medieval origins while allowing the stone to be unharmed when the additions were removed.
Mel Gibson initially turned down the role of William Wallace when MGM executive Alan Ladd Jr. gave him the script, because he felt he was too old for the part. A year later he changed his mind, after Paramount Pictures said they would finance the film only if he played the lead role.
James Horner's score was also used in several of the trailers for Cast Away (2000); some parts of his score appear in Apollo 13 (1995), as well as Braveheart (1995), which were released only a month apart.
Shortly after Wallace is knighted, an elderly member of Clan Balliol (played by Bernard Horsfall) asks Wallace about the Balliol claim to the throne of Scotland. In real life, John Balliol became King of Scotland in 1292, but was deposed by King Edward I of England in 1296. The real William Wallace swore his loyalty to King John Balliol, even after Balliol was imprisoned in England.
Although the majority of the characters in the film are Scottish, the actors portraying them were mostly drawn from non-Scottish parts of the UK (exceptions to this rule include Angus Macfadyen (Robert the Bruce) and Brian Cox (Argyle)). Ironically, the one Irish character in the film (Stephen), is played by Scots-born David O'Hara.
The land in which William Wallace was born and later returned to was the lowlands of western Scotland. He was born in Elderslie and held lands there. The land was not like it was in the film, but more flatland for farming.
Mel Gibson, who had been heavily criticized for a December 1991 interview with a Spanish magazine, was accused of homophobia for the film's portrayal of the Prince of Wales (and future King Edward II) as an effeminate homosexual. There is strong disagreement among historians as to whether Edward II, who fathered at least five children, was homosexual or even bisexual at all. The scene where Edward I threw his son's lover out of a castle window was particularly criticized for inciting homophobia. The lover was based on Piers Gaveston, who was also married; many historians believe these stories of Edward's homosexuality were invented by the King's enemies in order to discredit him. Gibson refused to apologize for the controversy in a 1995 interview with "Playboy" magazine while promoting the movie. However, in January 1997 he did agree to host a summit for representatives of gay rights organization GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) on the set of Conspiracy Theory (1997). The leaders of GLAAD noted they were disappointed that he did not apologize to them for the film's alleged homophobia. In a 1999 interview with "The Daily Telegraph" Gibson acknowledged "regret" over his controversial 1991 interview, claiming he had been drinking vodka at the time and that his words had frequently been used to criticize him.
Randall Wallace first had the idea for the film on a vacation to Edinburgh. He saw statues of William Wallace (no relation) and Robert the Bruce adorning Edinburgh Castle and asked a tour guide who they were. The guide proceeded to tell the screenwriter about their story. Wallace was immediately inspired to write a screenplay about the famed warriors.
Randall Wallace opted to do specific historical research after he completed his screenplay, because he wanted to capture the drama of the story first and input historical details later. He brushes off claims of the movie's historical inaccuracy by saying that the script is only his dramatic interpretation.
Mel Gibson admits that he borrowed the cinematic techniques for most of the violent shots in the movie, like shooting at different speeds, or using jump cuts to emphasize the violence, from his Mad Max (1979) director George Miller. He also admittedly borrowed ideas and techniques for more atmospheric shots from Peter Weir (who directed Gibson in Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)).
Mel Gibson originally wanted to have St. Andrew's Cross (a symbol of Scotland that appears on its contemporary flag) as the woad design on his face, but the film's make-up artist, Lois Burwell, suggested the now iconic half-face-covering design.
Mel Gibson cites Spartacus (1960) as one of the influences for the film. The story of Wallace parallels that of Spartacus, in that both men struggled against foreign rulers. The Big Country (1958) also served as an inspiration.
Patrick McGoohan (King Edward I) and Mel Gibson (William Wallace) were considered for the role of James Bond, but both declined. McGoohan had been considered for the role of James Bond in the early 1960s, while Gibson had been considered for the role of James Bond in the 1990s. Gibson declined the role of Bond for this movie.
Mel Gibson opted against including a main title sequence, because he felt the film should launch right into the story. Nevertheless, famous designer Kyle Cooper created a brief title sequence for the film.
Scottish singer Fish (best known as the lead singer of the British rock band Marillion in the 1980s) was offered a role in the film but it clashed with his tour to support his 1994 solo album "Suits". He later expressed sadness about this because it "could have been a big move" in his acting career.
During post-production, Mel Gibson and editor Steve Rosenblum were grappling with a hefty 195-minute (3 hrs., 15 min.) cut, which was way too long for a general release print. When Paramount Pictures executive Sherry Lansing intervened, she suggested which portions she felt should be cut. This initially irked both men, who resented being admonished by a female producer. After some revisions of their cut, however, both eventually agreed that Lansing's suggestions were the right way to go, and they reduced the running time to two hours and 58 minutes.
When speaking with Isabella before his execution, William Wallace delivers the famous quote "Every man dies--Not every man really lives." This famous quote, commonly attributed to the "Braveheart" character, was actually authored by 19th-century American poet William Ross Wallace, famous for writing the poem "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World". He has no relation to the William Wallace in the film.
In the movie, Wallace is jumped, beaten down and captured at Edinburgh Castle, betrayed by Robert the Bruce. In real-life Wallace was betrayed by a Scottish nobleman loyal to King Edward, Sir John Menteith. Wallace was captured at what is now Robroyston (named for another legendary Scottish hero, Rob Roy MacGregor), a suburb of Glasgow.
Elder Campbell is wounded in every battle he is seen participating in. He takes an arrow in the chest during the initial uprising against the local magistrate, his hand is cut off during the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and finally he takes an axe to the gut during the battle of Falkirk.