Normally when I review a book or a movie, I’m on the sharp lookout for flaws, nuances, etc. But this is neither a book nor a movie. It’s an audio drama—a movie for your mind.
My wife and I are audio drama fans. We collect them, and we listen to “Imagination Theater” every weekend. So I put away my notebook and just sat back and listened.
In Freedom’s Cause is billed as “The Real Story of Wallace and Bruce”—that is, Sir William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce, the champions and liberators of Scotland from English oppression in the Middle Ages. It’s part of a series, The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty, Henty being the prolific author of edifying and faith-friendly children’s books some hundred years ago. His work is very well-known among today’s Christian homeschooling families. The series is produced by Bill Heid and audio theater veteran John Fornof—and it’s first-rate family entertainment, packed with lessons in Christian faith and honor.
Stellar Cast, Gripping Story
I say it’s better than the Oscar-winning film, Braveheart, because it includes the religious dimension of the story, which was omitted from the movie. The William Wallace depicted herein is more of a whole man than was Mel Gibson’s Wallace in the film. What is omitted from the audio drama is the silly stuff about the English queen falling in love with Wallace.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to make this production simplistic, preachy, and corny. It is none of those things. It’s a drama taken out of history, with Christian heroes, a noble cause, courage against overwhelming odds, and faith. “By faith” Sir William Wallace fought for Scotland’s freedom—just like one of the Biblical heroes memorialized in Hebrews Chapter 11.
To give the story heart and wings, a superb cast was assembled. Instead of Mel Gibson, we have Stuart Pendred as Wallace. Originally trained as an actor, Pendred has won acclaim as an opera star—not a bad asset for an actor whom the audience will never see, but only hear. Pendred wields his voice with power and precision. When his Wallace quoted Scripture, it deeply moved me. It will move you deeply, too.
They’ve also got one of my favorite actors, Brian Blessed, playing G.A. Henty himself to introduce the story and serve as narrator throughout. Blessed is best known for playing Augustus Caesar in the classic BBC production of I, Claudius. He plays G.A. Henty with infectious enthusiasm.
The story is carried forward by the adventures of a boy, Ned Forbes (Hugo Docking), who inherits a blood feud, with all the dangers that entails, and grows to manhood (Johnny Scott takes over the role as “older Ned”) as one of Wallace’s most trusted knights and brothers-in-arms. Ned and his feud, his marriage to the daughter of his enemy, and his interactions with Wallace and King Robert, are fictional. His story serves as a bridge between the audience and the larger story of Scotland’s fight for independence.
It’s Not All Sunshine
There are some darker elements of this story. Wallace could not be conquered on the battlefield. The English found a Scottish traitor to betray him, and after a one-sided mockery of a trial, subjected him to a most cruel and protracted execution.
Instead of shying away from this, the writers made it an occasion to test Ned’s faith. “Sir William believed God would deliver him—but God did not deliver him!” Ned cries. But the answer Ned receives is that God did not abandon Wallace, but went with him into the valley of the shadow of death: and did not deliver him from death (for all men die), but rather delivered him in death. Wallace would have saved himself by doing homage to the English king and becoming his vassal, his slave. But despising what these men would do to him, Wallace remained true to his last breath.
Again Hebrews 11 comes to mind: “and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35).
It was harder to show the heroism of Robert the Bruce, who at first tried to appease the English and was slow to take up arms against them—all the while Wallace carried on the fight virtually alone. It seems the Scots high nobility didn’t mind the common people and the lesser nobles getting trampled, as long as their own privileges were secure. The Bruce was tardy in coming to the cause; but once committed, he never let up until the cause was won.
The writers are to be congratulated for never trying to sidestep the less heroic aspects of this history.
Making It Work
There are extras that flesh out the production to make it truly a movie for the mind—a haunting background music score, expert sound effects, and bits of comic relief. I laughed out loud when one of the young Scots was sent in to spy on the English, disguised as a minstrel: but the only musical instrument he could find was a primitive contraption called a “goat woo”—a kind of bagpipe whose eruptions only a goat would appreciate. I won’t attempt to describe it.
In Freedom’s Cause is two-and-a-half hours long. But if you don’t have such a block of time available, it’s on two discs, with the break in the story placed so that it won’t disorient you to save the second part for the next day.
All in all, I found that this story stayed with me after I’d finished listening. It made me want to know more, because I kept thinking about what I’d heard. Further reading re-acquainted me with Sir James Douglas, “the Black Douglas,” who took up the fight where Wallace left off and pressed it home to final victory.
That’s how education’s supposed to work, isn’t it?
The two-disc set costs $24.99 and can be ordered online via www.InFreedomsCause.com, or by phone, 877-327-0365. The website provides information about the cast, the production, and the rest of the G.A. Henty series.
All right, I know it’s too late to order it for Christmas. But who says you can’t give your family an after-Christmas present?