Meet the Falkirk movie combat man who starred in Outlaw King

No kilts, no blue face paint - these men are the unromantic but authentic face of 14th century Scotland.
No kilts, no blue face paint - these men are the unromantic but authentic face of 14th century Scotland.

Falkirk man Jamie Biddulph is only 35, and already has a whole string of blue chip film successes as an expert in the not-so-gentle art of hand to hand combat choreography.

Many more productions lie ahead, but there’s no question his major participation in Outlaw King is a stand-out career moment ... a dream come true.

In medieval times Hebridean birlinns would have been a familiar sight on the Clyde (unlike the Erskine Bridge, also in picture).  Training sessions on how to handle one were fun but exhausting for these Outlaw King men.

In medieval times Hebridean birlinns would have been a familiar sight on the Clyde (unlike the Erskine Bridge, also in picture). Training sessions on how to handle one were fun but exhausting for these Outlaw King men.

Jamie started his adult working life in the Royal Naval Fleet Auxiliary, but soon changed course to embark on a career that carries with it one of the world’s most unusual job descriptions: “battle-ready movie combat expert”.

It’s brutal hard work, and demands enormous amounts of patience and discipline - but the rewards are there too.

There is an awful lot of synthetic violence in Outlaw King, and filmgoers get more than a hint of what it must be like to work on such a project in the battle scene at the end - shot in a muddy field.

“Sometimes the gear you wear makes life more difficult”, says Jamie, “but the first movie I was involved in was Macbeth, where all we really had to put on was a pair of trousers - and that meant we were freezing cold”.

Tony Curran, as Hebridean warlord Angus Og MacDonald, leads a file of Bruce supporters through the Highlands.

Tony Curran, as Hebridean warlord Angus Og MacDonald, leads a file of Bruce supporters through the Highlands.

Nevertheless he is an enthusiast’s enthusiast.

He is a dedicated member of the charity the Clanranald Trust (whose battle-hardened warriors’ movie credits include “Gladiator”), and shares their passionate commitment to the study and understanding of Scottish history.

“Their achievements are many”, he says, “and what they gain they channel back into really worthwhile projects - like the Duncarron medieval village near Denny.

They aren’t all warriors, either, as the Trust provided invaluable assistance in the form of costume advice and historical accuracy - all of which give the movie a “look” that is hugely more realistic than Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

Fame!  Jamie Biddulph, second from left, naturally enjoyed all the red carpet attention.

Fame! Jamie Biddulph, second from left, naturally enjoyed all the red carpet attention.

“We’ve got several Falkirk members, and everyone involved in the movie brought enormous passion and commitment to it”, says Jamie.

“A lot of people see this as a unique chance to tell the world the incredible story of how Robert the Bruce overcame unbelievable obstacles to win Scottish independence”.

He has worked with the Clan for seven years, during which he has been involved in everything from school visits to films and volunteering, and it is clear the sense of kinship he finds there adds a special element of comradeship and purpose to the purely professional side of his career.

He has been a member of the Clan’s elite Combat International wing for four years, and meanwhile has launched his own enterprise, Rogue Film Lab - which has a Second World War movie (set in Scotland) in production.

Jamie, pictured front, celebrates the dream becoming reality - and there's shy and retiring Mr Chris Pine at the back.

Jamie, pictured front, celebrates the dream becoming reality - and there's shy and retiring Mr Chris Pine at the back.

It will almost certainly feature a fair bit of action, when you consider his film credits already include the Outlander series, King Arthur: Legend of the sword, and Transformers: The Last Knight.

However while he’s also proud to have worked on numerous small budget student short films as Stunt Coordinator he is at pains to stress: “We are not stunt men - I don’t jump off buildings or leap out of windows”.

He adds: “Our job is to make it all look real and authentic. We have a team of guys who can fall back on established routines - they ‘know’ each other - and who can bring a battle to life in a way that never looks phoney or ‘acted’”.

He also has the task of supervising extras, and instilling in them some important basics of how to act on a film set.

“You just can’t have an extra wander up and ask a lead actor for a selfie when he’s in the middle of prepping himself up for one of the big lines in the film”, says Jamie.

“That really cannot be allowed to happen.

Wee Josie O'Brien, as Robert the Bruce's daughter, is a child actor tipped as one to watch - she was brilliant in her role.

Wee Josie O'Brien, as Robert the Bruce's daughter, is a child actor tipped as one to watch - she was brilliant in her role.

“One thing you have to get right from the start is how to be professional at all times”.

So, that apart, what was Chris Pine like to work with?

“He is the perfect gentleman and complete professional in every way.

“It’s no problem having a chat with him - he’s just one of the guys - but it’s all about knowing when someone on set needs to be left alone.

“In Chris’s case, when you see him standing with his head bowed, deep in thought, and his hands clasped behind him, you know he’s getting into character for something important - he’s really not going to appreciate casual chat at that moment”.

Aaron Taylor-Johnston, the English actor who plays the larger than life Sir James Douglas in Outlaw King (a killing machine with a deep sense of vengeance), says the experience of “fighting” in all sorts of unforgiving weather, and in winter, was the ultimate bonding experience for those involved.

“However we did get one perk which Chris Pine missed out on”, says Jamie.

“We were filming in Aviemore, we were totally frozen, and then our team got the day off while Chris was filming a different scene.

“We got the option of using a hot tub in an Alpine cabin, and stayed in it all day - poor Chris didn’t get a shot of that!”

This month the extraordinary adventure that saw him rubbing shoulders with stars and helping to sail a medieval boat to Skye was rounded off with the full blare of deluxe showbiz razzmatazz at the launch of Outlaw King in Edinburgh.

“It was fantastic”, says Jamie, “and I think everyone involved hopes there will be more”.

The movie is set in 1304, so if Outlaw King makes enough cash internationally there’s plenty of room for sequels - that big battle in the movie is Loudoun Hill, ten years before the Battle of Bannockburn.

Meanwhile he’s disappointed there were only limited runs of the movie in key cinemas, as “it’s a huge epic, and deserves to be seen on the big screen” - but on the other hand glad Netflix has used a great Scottish history theme for its biggest and most ambitious movie yet.

He’s glad, too, at the alliance between the creative genius of Outlaw King’s Scots creator, David Mackenzie, and the people with the vision to turn his groundbreaking movie into reality.

If there a magic genie with a wish still to grant him, Jamie would plump for a Scottish national film studio in Falkirk, right in the heart of Scotland.

“I can reveal that the old Barr’s factory was seriously looked at, for example”, he says, “because while the argument goes on about where Scotland’s film studio should be - east or west - there are a lot of people who believe Falkirk’s central location, amenities, and easy access to so many places, is ideal”.

He adds: “So far the idea hasn’t been taken on, but we certainly haven’t given up.

“Outlander, and now Outlaw King, are showing just what is possible in this country - a bit like Robert the Bruce we just need the courage, skill and determination to make it happen!”

Meanwhile, at one of those limited cinema screenings, there’s his name on the credits at the end of the movie.

The audience at the GFT in Glasgow have just had the big film experience, and - some in tears - don’t budge from their seats until the music stops and the curtain closes.

They’ve just seen Jamie’s hard-bitten warriors defeat a 3,000-strong tidal wave of armoured horsemen, and witnessed Edward II lying sprawling in the mud, defeated.

Have they also just seen not only the biggest but also the greatest movie ever filmed in Scotland?

That’s up for discussion, but for Jamie and all the other local people involved Outlaw King will always be extra-special - the Scottish epic that broke the mould.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce.