Roland Emmerich’s 2000 box office hit, The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, utilized historically accurate scenery and a slightly skewed story line in an attempt to bring a lesser known part of the revolutionary war to the big screen.
The movie, which is loosely based in facts, should be considered entertainment and not a direct representation of history. The story is set in 18th century South Carolina. The father, and protagonist of the movie, is Ben Martin played by Mel Gibson. Martin is a veteran of the French and Indian War who is raising his seven children on the family farm alone. His previous war experience has hardened him to the atrocities of battle. Although the country is in the midst of the Revolutionary War he disapproves of his son, Gabriel’s, played by Heath Ledger, decision to enlist and fight with the Americans.
Gabriel, Martin’s oldest son, is considered to be the patriot in the movie, joins the Continental forces against his father’s wishes. For the first two years that Gabriel is away life goes on at the Martin home. However, Gabriel comes home injured during a mission dispatching messages for his commanders and trouble begins. A fight between the British and Continentals breaks out near the Martin farm and the family provides wounded soldiers on both sides with medical care. None-the-less a group of British soldiers, called the Green Dragon Calvary, ride in and kill all of the Continentals, burn down the Martin home and take Gabriel as a war prisoner. Gabriel’s brother Thomas is killed by Col.
William Tavington, played by Jason Isaacs, while trying to free his brother. Martin and two other sons, Nathan and Samuel, played by Trevor Morgan and Bryan Chafin, kill the British troops holding Gabriel hostage. At this point Gabriel returns to the army again against his father’s wishes. Martin also enlists at this time as well, presumably to help bring an end to the war and look after his son.
The remaining five Martin children go to live with an aunt. Once in the army Martin realizes that the American soldiers are not properly trained for battle. He also deduces that the current fighting style, in which each side lines up to, shoots at each other in an open field, and he begins to organize a militia that is to help keep the British troops, led by General Cornwallis, at bay until French reinforcements arrive. With the help of French Officer Jean Villeneuve, played by Tchecky Karyo, Martin trained the militia. The militia is then able to ambush British supplies.
In return an effort to draw out Martin, Tavington burn’s down the plantation home that the five remaining Martin children and their aunt are living but no one is injured. At this point Gabriel meets and marries Anne Howard, who is killed after returning home. It is here that British troops under the direction of Tavington, gathered all of the townspeople, Anne included, and burned them alive in the regional church. When Gabriel finds out what has happened to his new bride he is outraged. He takes a small group of men ride out to engage the soldiers that committed the church burning. Many men are killed during the ensuing battle.
Gabriel then has the opportunity to fight Tavington, who kills him. A final battle ensues in which Martin is able defeat the British with the help of the militia. In the name of his sons Martin kills Tavington. Cornwallis sounds a retreat and the Americans celebrate. Martin explains that the French troops arrive and the British are forced to admit defeat and Martin and his remaining children are left to rebuild their lives. Martin’s character may be based on a several real life people.
However, Martin most closely resembles Francis Marion, a known Indian killer from the French and Indian War. Marion, nicknamed Swamp Fox, was based in South Carolina, like Martin, and operated at Snow Island, a South Carolina swamp. This is very similar to Martin and his old Spanish mission operation headquarters also located in the swamps. The feud between Marion and Tavington is strikingly similar to that of Marion and Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was under the direct orders of Cornwallis to capture Marion, which he never did. There are several battle scenes within the movie. However, only two actually have historical relevance.
Camden, this is the battled that Martin and Gabriel witness just after entering into the war. The real battle of Camden took place on August 16, 1780 and consisted of British and German troops fighting against Americans. The British won after losing more than 300 soldiers compared to the Americans who lost approximately 1,000.
The last battle scene, which is barely a scene at all, is shown briefly as Martin narrates the end of the movie. This battle is supposed to be the battle of Yorktown that took place from September 28, 1781 until October 19, 1791 in Virginia. During this battle the Americans and the French are able to overcome the British just after Cornwallis lost his hold over both of the Carolinas. The drama in the movie surrounding Martin and his family are not historically accurate. But the costumes and scenery is a historic reflection of the times. The movie does raise interest in a portion of the revolutionary war that otherwise would not necessarily be well known.
Despite the fact that the movie has been glamorized by Hollywood there is some historic merit. If for no other reason the movie has merit for providing 21st century Americans with a brief glimpse into the landscape of the 18th century as well as the style, weaponry and uniforms of the Revolutionary war, a major milestone in American history. Although this movie received mixed reviews in the media I enjoyed it. There are several clichés and much of the movie has an overwhelming Hollywood dramatization to it. But it is just a movie meant to entertain not inform the American people about their roots.71226192