Mary MacGregor: "Honor is the gift a man gives himself." You told our boys that. Would you have stolen from yourself that which makes you Robert Roy MacGregor? ~Rob Roy (1995)I must admit the film Rob Roy did not appeal to me when I first saw it. The brutality and rough language were a little overwhelming and nothing like Sir Walter Scott's novel. However, after watching it a few more times, I have really come to appreciate not only how it brings to life the famous Scottish hero, but also for the portrayal of married love and devotion. Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange are Rob Roy and Mary MacGregor, who go through just about everything to emerge more closely bound together than ever. As described in Entertainment Weekly:
Neeson's Robert Roy MacGregor, known as Rob Roy, is the mythical hero of Scottish folklore, an 18th-century clan leader who presides over a community of tenant farmers. He's a man who believes in the primacy of honor as much as he believes in his own life. Still, he's no stony island. His strength derives in part from how deeply he loves and reveres his wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), a redheaded lass every bit as spirited and intransigent as he is....The heart of Rob Roy is the passionate interplay between Neeson and Lange, and the two are superb together. Their scenes give off a touching erotic glow; you couldn't begin to separate the MacGregors' lusty ardor from their devotion to each other. When Mary becomes an aggrieved victim, Lange's acting turns startlingly powerful. She reveals not just the distress you expect but a fervid strength, an understanding of her husband's code of honor that is deep enough to tap a hidden core of rue. And Lange's performance finds its analogue in Neeson's climactic duel with Roth, which is no fleet swashbuckler but a fierce, bloody, knockdown affair, pitting Cunningham's superior finesse against Rob Roy's grinding moral will. This is the kind of sword fight in which the action has true emotional force, and it helps make Rob Roy that rarity, an old-fashioned entertainment you can actually believe in.The MacGregors are one of the oldest Scottish clans, known as "The Children of the Mist." Because of the way in which they antagonized the English over the years with their general contrariness and later Jacobite sympathies, they were forbidden to use the MacGragor name. Being called something else did nothing to alter the disposition of the MacGregors. As one history says:
In 1589, the MacGregors killed a royal forester - an offence against the crown, which promptly issued letters of "fire and sword" against the clan, making it illegal to shelter or have any dealings with clan members. Various "fire and sword" orders were continually proclaimed against the MacGregors for the better part of 200 years - they simply couldn't keep out of trouble. In 1603, after Clan Gregor trapped and murdered the Colquhouns, an Act was passed proscribing the very name MacGregor. This meant any member of Clan Gregor (if caught) could be beaten, robbed or killed without fear of punishment. Anyone with the name MacGregor was banned from the church (no marriages, burials, communion, etc.). It was complete ostracism for the entire clan.
During this time, the Earl of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, promised safe conduct out of the country to MacGregor of Glenstrae and his men, then turned them over to be hanged. This treachery united the entire highlands in their loathing of the Campbells.
Though reduced to the status of outlaws, the MacGregors never forgot or relinquished their identity. They fought for the king (who had renewed the Acts against them) with Montrose in 1644-45 (the Campbells fought on the other side). In 1661, the Acts were finally repealed, but only for about 30 years, until William of Orange and his successors renewed them and kept them in force. No wonder that Clan Gregor fully supported the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745. The Acts were finally repealed permanently in 1774 - Clan Gregor surviving almost 200 years as outlaws.
Given that he came from such a clan, it is not surprising that Rob Roy was constantly in trouble, of which the film depicts a colorful portion. An interesting aspect of the movie is that it shows how someone like Rob Roy, living in a hovel with his family, struggling against destitution, was nevertheless a threat to the the rich and powerful of the world, and so hated by villains like the foppish Cummingham (Tim Roth). Perhaps because Rob Roy amid all his poverty and desperation was a free man, fearing nothing but losing his integrity, knowing that he must ultimately answer to God. Wealth and fine clothes cannot bestow security upon the insecure, who resent those who possess within themselves what money cannot buy. Rob and Mary, in spite of every form of abuse being heaped upon them, could not be stripped of their dignity, just as they could not be stripped of their love.