Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Patriot

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The Patriot Historical Accuracy

The Patriot is a fictional piece with the timeframe and events of the American Revolution, with a few exceptions. As suggested in the title, there are obvious biases in favour of the United States right from the beginning. Th

1) The brutality of the British regulars is, in the worlds of star Mel Gibson, 'juiced up' for dramatic effect. In one scene, the British regulars murder wounded American POWs; in another, they order the execution of a colonial soldier captured in uniform. In fact, such war crimes by regular troops rarely happened. Spies and traitors, such as Nathan Hale (American) and Major John Andre (British), were hanged, and irregular militias, terrorist bands allied to both sides and Indian proxies certainly carried out some horrific atrocities. But regular troops on both sides almost universally observed the law of war that distinctions should be made between the former categories and uniformed combatants.

In the most bizarre scene, the people an entire town are locked in a church, which is then set on fire. This mimics a notorious Nazi war crime, when 64 peple were massacred in the French village of Oradour sur Glane in June 144, but no such incident took place in the American Revolution. 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.'

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) The film gives the impression that the conflict was a straight fight between British troops and colonials only one colonist is shown fighting for the British, and regarded as an oddity by Tavington. However in reality, about a third of the colonists were rebels, a third were loyal to the British Crown and a third were neutral. Thus the Revolution was much more like a civil war, with communities and even families split between 'patriots' and 'loyalists'.

) Similarly, The Patriot tends to exaggerate the degree to which a unified 'American' identity had been forged in the 1770s. For instance, the colonials all sound like modern Americans, wheras in truth there would have been a wide range of European tongues and accents being spoken. Similarly the American flag with the circle of stars would not have been used in battle at that time, but is flown in the film to give greater dramatic impact.

4) The declaraction by George Washington that slaves who fight for the Continental cause will earn their freedom is fictional.

5) The film-makers enlisted the help of the Smithsonian Institute to ensure the movie was free from anachronism in terms of military chronology, weapons used and costumes worn. However, certain changes were made for dramatic reasons. In battle sequences, the colours of uniforms have been altered to make it clearer to the audience which side is which. (According to the Smithsonian's Bobby Moss, often the only way to distinguish between Loyalist and Patriot soldiers was what they wore in their caps the loyalists had pine twigs and the Patriots white paper). Similarly, the soldiers led by Tavington, the Green Dragoons, wore (as their name would suggest) green in real life, but in the film they are given red coats to align them in the audience's mind with the rest of the British army.

Another change that may infuriate purists is the merging of two important 1781 battles Cowpens and Guildford Courthouse into one. However, both battles were similar, in that local militia fought alongside the continental army to help turn the tide against the British in South Carolina.

The cannons used in the final battle scene are lb guns. These werent used in the field - the correct gun should have been the smaller 6lb gun. But, at the end of the day, the director wanted bigger bangs.

It is also worth mentioning that some of the characters are 'based on' real-life American Revolution combatants.

- Tavington is based on the historical figure Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who was renowned for the violence and brutality he inflicted on his enemies. The phrase 'Tarleton's quarter' was coined to refer to his practice of ordering the execution of defeated combatants even after they had put down their weapons and waved the white flag. He continued his reign of terror until Cornwallis surrended at Yorktown in 1781, after which he became MP for Liverpool and lived to the age of 78.

- According to screenwriter Robert Rodat, the character of Benjamin Martin is a composite of several heroes of the American Revolution, including Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Daniel Morgan, Elijah Clark and Francis Marion. Martin's ghostlike elusiveness is particularly reminiscent of the so-called 'Swamp Fox' Francis Marion, who would attack then 'disappear' into marshland. His effective guerrilla campaign recalls Thomas Sumter, whose harrassment cut off British supplies. And he also represents Daniel Morgan, whose force of light infantry, riflemen, regular troops and militia leads the crucial victory at Cowpens.

- Villeneuve is partially based on the young French fighter the Marquis de Lafayette, who rose through the ranks of the Continental Army to become Washington's protg.

- Colonel Burnel is loosely based on Colonel 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee (although unlike actor Chris Cooper, Lee was just 1 when he fought in the Revolution

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