After watching Outlaw King more times than I feel the need to admit, I wanted to explore Elizabeth’s journey and the challenges she faces as she navigates the new life that has been chosen for her.
Her first challenge, though not an unusual one for the time, is having no say in who she will marry. King Edward I “gifts” her to Robert the Bruce at a banquet after his formal surrender. He’s been married once and has a daughter, Marjorie. Elizabeth learns all of this on the carriage ride with her parents to meet and marry Robert. She has to negotiate the terrain of entering into a ready-made family, along with the lingering pain and sorrow for the wife and mother who died giving birth to Marjorie.
Jokes are exchanged regarding her possible appearance and demeanor as the carriage pulls to a halt. I got the sense that Robert was neither pleased nor displeased (resigned and polite?) as Elizabeth exited the carriage and revealed herself to him. I think she sensed the reluctance/hesitation and stood tall with a matter-of-fact stance. What you see is what you get. In an effort to make the best of an uncomfortable situation, she introduces herself to Marjorie and Jessie, her dog. Perhaps she was trying to convey that though she may not be a stunning bride, she has a warm and compassionate heart.
Elizabeth sighs with relief when Robert leaves her bedchamber without consummating their marriage. It’s just too soon, and the ghost of Robert’s first wife appears to be all too close as they sit on the bed in what used to be her bedchamber. Sooner or later it will happen, but for now Elizabeth seems happy to be left alone as she navigates her new role, life, and residence.
Her strong personality begins to emerge when she confronts the English soldiers trying to add a young boy to their group of recruits. As Robert and his father look on, she stands up to the soldier and demands that he release the boy. What strength and courage is she drawing upon? Is it something she’s been taught or witnessed, or is it part of who she is as an individual? As Robert’s wife, she has certain rights and privileges of rank, but her actions here seem to go above and beyond her duty as Robert’s wife. She appears to be acting on instinct, revealing her sense of fairness and decency. Robert and his father remain silent but appear to take note.
Robert visits her room later and calls her brave. “Is there anything else?” she asks. When he says, “No,” she shuts the door and smiles. She knows by his answer that he’s still not ready, but Elizabeth’s confidence in her feelings about Robert and their relationship is growing. Then, a rough patch presents itself.
After being dismissed from a family meeting (by Robert, no less), Elizabeth confronts him in his room. She’s hurt and humiliated at being excluded, but was wise to eavesdrop on the conversation. She’s in this family now, and she has a right to know what’s happening, even if she’s a woman. However, she bides her times and confronts Robert later, when it’s just the two of them. (He apologizes, by the way, for his actions.) She goes to him, not the other way around. At the end of their conversation, she makes a declaration that turns the corner in their relationship. It’s a pivotal time for her, and for Robert to understand the level of her commitment to him. If Robert had any doubt, she makes it perfectly clear with just a few, well-chosen words. “I choose you. My husband.”
Their marriage is finally consummated after a conversation about bad wine takes a solid, pivotal turn. Regarding the unrest and challenges from the English, Robert (now King of Scotland) tells her, “We have too much to do to let that happen now.” Emphasis on “we.” He reaches over and takes Elizabeth’s hand – a clear endorsement of his faith in her, and growing affection for her. Elizabeth picks up on this subtle message and leads him inside their tent. She initiates this “final step,” not Robert. She’s assertive, but gentle. She’s taking the next step in their married life by leading him (literally) forward and then shifts her role from initiator to recipient as she welcomes Robert’s desire for intimacy. She instinctively knows when to lead and when to step aside for the sake of their relationship. She loves him and has faith in the fact that after all of the heartache Robert has endured, he has the ability and desire to love again.
Her loyalty and love for Robert is sorely tested when she is captured by Edward I’s son, the Prince of Wales. He will grant her freedom and allow her to return home with her parents if she agrees to annul her marriage to Robert. When she learns that he has eluded the English, she refuses to betray him and is imprisoned in a metal cage that is suspended over the castle wall.
Except for the fact that her life has been spared, it can’t get much worse for Elizabeth. Dangling in a cage in the elements, she has no idea if Robert is still alive. If he is, does he know where she is? Will she survive long enough for him to rescue her? Clearly, she’s being kept alive to draw Robert in. After that, she has little/no value to her captors. So, what does she cling to in this time of desperation? Her faith in God. She has no one else. Her parents are gone, she has no idea where Robert is, and her captors are not inclined to release her. So Elizabeth prays and sings hymns to help her survive from one moment to the next.
At some point, the terms for her release are negotiated, and she is set free. One of the final images of the film shows her running to meet Robert as he rides toward her on a beautiful, sun-filled beach. For now, the terrors of the past are gone. Elizabeth has proven her strength, resilience, and loyalty to Robert in times when matters of the crown were at stake. She has proven that, and more. She has demonstrated the depth of her love to Robert, and sometimes love conquers all.