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Movie “The Patriot” and Historical Reality Essay

Movies are made to be sold and not history to be perfectly told. If movies include a complete history, it wouldn’t be known as a movie anymore. However, it would be called a documentary, which most people get fed up of. So interpretations, exaggerations and idealistic scenes are added to the movie to make it more interesting for the audience. “The Patriot” is a similar film made during the modern day time about a time period in which none of the experienced the real revolution. Politically, socially, and culturally, “The Patriot” attempts to give a sense of the scope of aspects involved in the American Revolution. Despite succeeding in this regard, it still lacks details that reveal the true complexity of the mixed sentiments present in this time period.

Starting with the protagonist, Marion was originally the lead character in the script, but because of controversy and to allow for more dramatic storytelling, Martin was introduced. Martin is an amalgamation of several American Revolutionaries; Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter.

Martin’s hit and run tactics and nickname ‘The Ghost’ were inspired by Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox”, while the tactics of using the militia on the front to draw the British in the final battle were based on similar tactics used by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens’ influence seems to be that both rejoined the fight after the British burned their homes (Online).

Similarly, the antagonists (villains) in the movie are exaggerated orhave a melodramatic appearance in the movie.

Adding a pure villain in a movie makes it more appealing as people get interested in the movie to find out what will happen at the end. Colonel Tavington is based on the historical figure Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who was renowned for the violence and brutality he inflicted on his enemies. He believed in total war, which meant that civilians who helped the enemy were the enemy. This is accurately shown in the movie when he kills civilians in the movie who helped the continentals. Before even killing in the movie, he declares “Let it be known if you harbor the enemy you will lose your home” (The Patriot).However, one accurate part cannot be matched with the several inaccuracies of the movie.

Colonel William Tavington did believe in total war, but to the point of coming down like an all out evil sadistic villain who can order to burn a church was one of the biggest blunder in the movie. Accordingly, tensions between General Cornwallis and Tarleton were not as bad as depicted in the movie between Cornwallis and Tavington. “In fact, Tarleton considered Cornwallis his mentor and they stayed in touch for many years” (Online). The biggest flaw in the movie was that it showed Tavington die near the end of the movie whereas “he returned to England safely, became MP for Liverpool and lived to the age of 78” (Online). This part was basically to a have “happy ending” and to convince the audience that good takes over bad. General Cornwallis, not a real villain, but still an antagonist is another character who is exaggerated.

General Cornwallis was the only main character (Not counting Greene and Gates as main characters) who had the same name in the movie. However, once again, the character has been embellished. General Charles Cornwallis was not the really old and proper guy that the movie portrays him as being. He was actually in his early 40’s. He is also portrayed to be someone arrogant. This may not have really been the case, since he often stood at the front lines in harm’s way alongside his soldiers, rather than hanging back and watching the battle from the safety of afar. Villains can be considered a “key to success” of a movie and similarly good side vs. the bad side has to be shown.

“The brutality of the British regulars is, in the world of star Mel Gibson, ‘juiced up’ for dramatic effect” (Online). The depiction of the British in the movie is quite accurate but there are still some errors. They were very brutal in their actions. They were also very organized in battle as shown in the movie, and that’s why they didn’t know how to deal with militia men. However, the brutality wasn’t as much as shown in some parts of the movie. It is done to show the evilness of the British and so when the patriots killed any British, it seemed that they are taking revenge and so the brutal actions of the patriots were acceptable. In one scene, the British regulars order the execution of a colonial soldier captured in uniform.

In fact, such war crimes by regular troops rarely happened. In the most incongruous scene, the people of the entire town are locked in a church which is then set on fire. It is very hard to believe that any British soldier would actually burn a church, because mostly everyone at that particular time was either Puritanical or Catholic. To desecrate such a sacred ground would be tantamount to sin; something that a British general would never order, nor would his soldiers follow, even if the order was given. As historian Thomas Fleming puts it: ‘Of course it never happened. If it had, do you think Americans would have forgotten it? It could have kept us out of World War I’ (Online). The events that people were exposed to in the film, were extremely violent, not to mention, only one side of the story is given.

The colonists on the other hand were no more humane than the British, even though in the movie it tries to show that they were working on becoming more humane. This assumption comes from the fact that hatred and violence breds hatred and violence. The movie did not quite represent the war methods of the Patriots. Although the movie showed the militia using un-gentlemen-like war methods, the viewer felt proud when they saw the actions of the Patriots, because their unconventional methods were portrayed as being acceptable. One blunder is that a handful of men could hold off all those troops until the French was able to aid. In the movie the patriots seemed short handed but in reality “the patriots were numbered 1/5 to the British army” (Online). Not only was this part wrong, the whole movie is full of factual errors.

Various parts of the movie were full of factual errors and most came during battles. One of the biggest mistake was that the soldiers led by Tavington, the Green Dragoons, wore green in real life, but in the film they are given red coats to align them with the rest of the British army.

They became known as the Green Dragoons because their uniform was predominantly green with red trim, rather than the recognizable red uniform with the addition of green trim as in the movie. (Online)Another change that may annoy historians is the merging of two important 1781 battles – Cowpens and Guildford Courthouse – into one. Although they were almost the same in some aspects, one cannot just mix two battles and have a result as one. The weapons were another very inaccurate part. The cannons used in the final battle scene were 32 lb guns.

These weren’t used in the field at that time. The correct gun was the much smaller 6lb gun. “While solid cannonballs and other projectiles such as chains were used to rip through battle lines as in the movie, explosive projectiles had not yet been invented”(Online). This shows that “The Patriot”, although trying to be accurate, is a modern movie and the director thought that bigger booms will be have a dramatic effect whereas reality would be just small booms having no effect on the audience. Similarly, some of the battlefield tactics were incorrect. The movie shows that militia charged armed British soldiers. This never happened during the revolution.

There is no way militia would ever charge armed British regulars, they almost always ran the other way – unless the British had been routed and they had the proper support of Continental troop.(Online)Furthermore, the lack of French and Spanish soldiers was somewhat incorrect. Only one French soldier was depicted throughout the movie; the Spanish victories along the Mississippi were ignored completely. The muskets were shown to be so much accurate in the movie; however, in reality, they were so inaccurate that “misfires were common” (Online) and battle cries at Bunker Hill started that “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” (Gordon s. Wood). Similarly, in the movie Martin advices his sons “aim small, miss small”(The Patriot) which clearly meant that the muskets were highly inaccurate.

During the part in the movie when Martin and his two sons fight for rescuing Gabriel from the British, it is shown that both the kids shoot very accurately and confidently. In reality, the musket shot had such a hard back-kick that the kids would have propelled backwards. An online website provides us with the information that “old fashion muskets and cannon would often backfire causing serious injuries to the Whitemen” (Online). This clearly explains that there was no way a child would fire a musket. Even more, a kid wouldn’t be able to carry a musket as muskets were really heavy. Although having many inaccurate parts in the movie, one accurate part is shown. In the Colonial era, armies fought by standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a line, firing at one another and this is, somehow, accurately shown in the movie. Moving back to characters, slaves and women were one of the biggest flaws in the movie.

The biggest flaw in the movie occurred due to the acts of the slaves shown in the movie. During the 18th century freed slaves were nonexistent but in the movie, the black workers on Martin’s farm introduce themselves as “free” and able to come and go as they please. This is a total blunder. This point is used to make Martin stand out as a hero from the start and to make the audience sympathize with him. Another mistake is the depiction of the black community that seems to be a stretch. The living conditions may have been realistic, but the fact that Martin hid his family within this camp seems impractical.

During those times, the blacks would be not willing to help and would be in hiding from a Patriot. Moreover, during that time, many slaves fought on the British side to gain freedom from their merciless masters. In the movie, Tavington states “By order of King George, all slaves of the American colonies who fight for the crown will be granted their freedom with our victory.”(The Patriot). Equally important, “Pursuing the promise of freedom, at least 50,000 blacks served the British…” (Dibacco, 100). However, no slave can be seen in the movie fighting for the British.

Equally important to the acts of the slaves, the acts of the women were as well a big mistake in the movie. The women in the movie didn’t seem to be refined or ready for a war. They didn’t want to participate in the war and one can see no women on the battlefield. However, in reality, women went to the battlefield with their husbands.

Whatever their reason, women busied themselves washing, cooking, nursing, sewing, and mending. A few women joined their men on the battlefield. Martha Washington was the most famous of those who followed their husbands in the army. (Dibacco, 99)The sister of Benjamin’s dead wife was a role which was totally unbelievable. She seemed to be unmarried, and she seemed to have a lot of wealth. For that time no women was allowed to own a land and live unmarried. Women didn’t have enough or maybe no rights at that time. This also shows that The Patriot is a modern day film because today, women have a lot of rights.

Another big blunder is when Gabriel enters a church to gather men to form a militia. As no church member complies with Gabriel, a young woman stands up and reprimands the men in the church and indirectly calls them hypocrites and cowards. The response of the church was to then act in accordance with Gabriel Martin by participating in a militia. In historical eighteenth century no woman would dare speak out, especially during church, and if one had, probably she would be punished. So it could be clearly seen that women were a big fault in the movie script.

On countless occasions in the movie, one can clearly point out an error. From characters to battles, numerous mistakes can be counted if compared to reality. Regardless of its fallacies, “The Patriot” still represents the scene of the Revolutionary War very well. The set of the movie characterizes the period with the small towns, the churches, and Martin’s plantation. The clothing of the characters is typical for the 1700s and the soldiers’ outfits resemble the real uniforms very closely. The viewer is intrigued by the action scenes of the battles and is taken into a journey of struggle, pain and death, all in the name of freedom. Although the movie can give an idea of the revolution, it is still totally biased and can’t be trusted as a historical source.


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