Patrick McGoohan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Edward "Longshanks" in Braveheart.
Now with that said this might very well be a love it or hate it performance as McGoohan throws caution to the wind going all out in depicting Longshanks as the villain, I would argue, the film needs, for the style it takes in delivering the epic story of William Wallace. It must not be a villain who just kinda seems like a guy whose not very nice, no he has to be the tyrant that becomes a personification of the evils of the English from the story. The funny thing is I always have known McGoohan best for his depiction of the Scarecrow/Dr. Syn in the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh(where he would probably make my actor line up that year if I could ever find the original film cut of it) where he played a masked hero fighting against a King of England. This time though he is the King, and an evil one at that, perhaps trying to be the most evil one, though in characters from films in 1995 itself he has some stiff competition from Richard III. Like Ian McKellen's work in that film, McGoohan embraces the evil to its fullest extent throwing himself into making Edward the foe worthy of our hero William Wallace. McGoohan goes about realizing the same sort of grandeur in his performance that is above the vile nature of mere mortals, this is an evil King after all, he has to take it to another level.
McGoohan oozes a palatable menace in his role as his eyes seem to suggest that Longshanks is merely holding back an even more deranged individual behind his regal composure. Even a glance from him seem to be a curse from him as there is nothing
but a hateful disregard in him for all things other than himself. McGoohan is curiously unstable while being stable in his role. He keeps Longshanks for the majority of the film as a very sturdy and extremely imposing figure as his presence lords over any scene in which he appears. Within that though there is a unpredictable sort of intensity that perpetuates in any given scene as though the only thing that tempers Longshanks psychopathy is the his position as King, though improves his ability to harm others, because there rarely are moments where Longshanks is comfortable within himself. Even when he tells his original plan to breed out the Scots, and all his advisers agree, McGoohan produces such a venom as Longshanks bites back at their sycophantic behavior. McGoohan does not play Longshanks as a man who simply hates the Scots, or hates people who oppose his power. No, instead McGoohan portrays him as a man who hates everyone, and is most comfortable in the act of brutally killing his foes.
I rather love McGoohan's take of embracing the evil of Longshanks. I particularly enjoy the way he produces that nagging cough of Longshanks that grows throughout the film, that McGoohan makes a very unpleasant wheeze fitting for more of a monster than a man. Now it is far to argue that it is not exactly the most subtle approach, but there's times for subtlety as well as times to go for something a little bigger. McGoohan does this with his performance. Now that is not even to say there is not a certain complexity that McGoohan brings to the part. His character really has one true purpose, but I don't think it is still quite as thin as all that. McGoohan never makes it as though Longshanks is just of one mind, though his unsaid though most likely psychopathy is the motivating factor for the character that McGoohan establishes. In his scenes with his son, the weak willed Edward II, McGoohan depicts an accepted fear in Longshanks as he knows his son will not be able to keep his power, and there is a desperation that McGoohan depicts as Longshanks attempts to get his son to be the King he wants him to be. McGoohan does find variation within the evil King, and his successes in the film feel earned as McGoohan realizes so well the cunning of a King. He's excellent in the only scene where Longshanks is in battle, and McGoohan shows a man who is the absolute champion of the battlefield without raising an arm as he's already defeated Wallace before the battle began. McGoohan makes Longshanks the perfect villain for the film making his final scene so satisfying as McGoohan reveals almost the wretched insides of the man, as he is falling into a despair, while it appears all that he built in his time will splinter in his death.
Macfadyen though presents Robert as a man who makes his moves carefully, he importantly does also establish early on that he is more than just one of the other power or land hungry lords that we see in the rest of the film. In an early scene where Robert describes Wallace's efforts Macfadyen reveals a palatable desire to break out in a similair way to Wallace, and to join Wallace's cause. Of course his father's advice wins out, but Macfadyen keeps this as a understated factor in Robert as he conveys the similair sentiments that motivate Wallace though just no in not such an extroverted fashion. MacFadyen is excellent in the first scene where Robert and Wallace directly interact as Robert attempts to convince Wallace to compromise while Wallace tries to convince Robert not to. What's so strong about Macfadyen's performance is again he does not leave Robert just as this weaker soul who needs to be schooled by Wallace. Macfadyen does not allow this with his portrayal of Robert as he brings an genuine passion and manages to be quite persuasive in his attempts to make Wallace basically understand the more finer details when it comes to the control of power in a country. This makes it all the more earned in MacFadyen subdued though incredibly effective reaction as Wallace urges Robert to be the man he could be.
Of course other matters seem to dictate a different course as he takes his father's course instead and backs Longshanks during a battle with Wallace going so far as to even ride with Longshanks himself. Macfadyen realizes so well the heartbreak and guilt in Robert when Wallace confronts him directly, as Macfadyen does not just show him to be a mad saddened by the defeat of a man he admired, the death he allowed, but the most pain seems to come from the shame that he was not able to be the man Wallace believed he could be. Macfayden creates the intensity of Robert's despair powerfully by again having this undercurrent of that passion Robert desperately wants to embrace, though forces himself to deny due to continuing to follow his father's advice for compromise. Macfadyen never simplifies the conflict in Robert making his personal arc come to life which is pivotal to the film. Robert ends up being the insurance of the film in a way since Wallace's own story ends in rather tragic circumstances, which leaves only Robert left to fight for the freedom Wallace desired as well as the only person who can make the film an inspiring instead of depressing note.
This is all left to the final scene of the film which begins with Robert accepting his position as King, though with the stipulation that he will still bow down to English. Macfayden is outstanding in this scene in almost a completely silent moment as he effectively portraying Robert going over the decision in his mind, and seeming as he will possibly once again compromise. Then there is that moment of the choice that is so beautifully rendered as he has Robert finally become the man Wallace believed he could be. Macfadyen reveals the full fiery passion, that was always there, in Robert in his speech to the Scottish army. It is only nine words long but I actually find it to be the most rousing of all the speeches in the film, amplified so well by Macfadyden's eyes and voice as you can see that same spirit that fueled Wallace as Robert speaks the words "You have bled with Wallace. Now bleed with me.". Macfadyen is gives a great performance by creating such a poignant portrait, not of the romantic hero like Wallace who already has the will attempt to lead the people to freedom to begin with, but rather of a man who must gain the strength to become the hero who can accomplish Wallace's dream.
O'Hara is so wonderfully demented in the role and manages to so well make Stephen form of insanity something quite endearing to behold. O'Hara brings so much just in those eyes of his which seem as sharp and piercing as the knife he most commonly brandishes, this goes along with a such a bright and wide smile only fitting for a man who converses with the creator, and just a laugh that is so well delivered by O'Hara as a glorious cackle only fitting for a true mad man. O'Hara, unlike the other two performances I have highlighted, does not really have any scenes to himself, he's rarely not in the presence of Wallace with usually something more important going one around him. What O'Hara instead has at his disposal are a series of moments strewn throughout the film. Whenever the film decides to cut to Stephen O'Hara never wastes a gesture or breath in offering whatever Stephen decides to add to the situation. Stephen always off a bit of off-kilter commentary in his brief moments that always stand out well thanks to O'Hara marvelous work, I've always particularly loved his little aside to Wallace when they're hunkered down due to arrows.
Any sequence in which Stephen appears gets an extra bit of color thanks to O'Hara who makes Stephen a constant source of entertainment. Now although O'Hara is a lot of fun in the role, but that is not all there is to his work. As Wallace's campaigns become less successful and as Edward begins to gain the upper hand O'Hara adjusts his performance appropriately, as Stephen becomes one of the few allies to Wallace to neither die or betray him. O'Hara matches the changing and darker tone of the film perfectly, without ever seeming out of place. In fact O'Hara ends up being quite moving in just offering very sympathetic and wholly genuine reactions to the worst moments particularly Wallace's torture. Now technically Stephen could be erased from the film and the film would go on, though as a whole it would be less. O'Hara's performance here is an example of just what a talented character actor can do.In just a bit of time sprinkled throughout the film O'Hara makes his impact, delivering in creating a memorable character out of a minor role that makes Braveheart a better film by his mere presence.