"Rob Roy" is a beautifully filmed, classic tale marred by a vicious rape scene which, although necessary to the plot as written, still made me quite uncomfortable. Shot on location in Scotland, the film tells the story of an 18th-century highlander named Rob Roy MacGregor (Liam Neeson) who has a run-in with the lord of his land (John Hurt) which changes the lives of his peasant community forever.
Obedient and honorable to a fault, MacGregor and a few of his fellow highlanders track down Lord Montrose's cattle, which had been thieved by a small band of drifters. Wanting to create a better life than this for his wife Mary (Jessica Lange) and sons, MacGregor works out a plan whereby his village can profit from his skills as a cattle driver. What he plans to do is this: secure a 1,000 pound credit note from his lordship, use it to purchase cattle in one town, drive the cattle to another town, sell them for a substantial profit, and repay his lordship along with the agreed upon twenty percent interest.
Although this strategy could have worked brilliantly, it is never given a chance. The day that MacGregor's right-hand man (Eric Stoltz) is sent to obtain the note, the lord's corrupt counselor claims that it has not been signed and offers him 1,000 pounds in coin instead. This 1,000 pounds is subsequently stolen as arranged by the corrupt counselor. To make matters worse, MacGregor had obtained a lower interest rate from his lordship than would normally be conferred by claiming his village's 300 acres as collateral.
Although his lordship is dismayed at the robbery, he does not feel moved to forgive or even delay repayment of the debt. However, he will consider the debt erased if MacGregor will only speak out against a particular nobleman who might otherwise be granted a higher standing. MacGregor's honor will not allow for this option and in his anger, he makes an enemy of his lord. Now MacGregor and his clansman must take up arms to defend their village and their people from the wrath of the lord.
Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange both give powerful performances in "Rob Roy", each practically guaranteed to earn an Oscar nomination for their efforts. The cinematography is also outstanding, depicting the Scottish countryside and period settings in all their glory. The film also sports a fluid instrumental score which colors and enriches the film without being obtrusive.
And yet, with all this going for it, "Rob Roy" isn't as gratifying as it could have been, due to its periodic reliance on sexuality, both in positive and negative depictions. What could have been a morality tale equal in stature to a Shakespearean play, has been reduced to the lowest common denominator by a Hollywood community which knows that sex sells. That's too bad because what's good about "Rob Roy" is really good.