Historical Accuracy of “The Patriot”

The Patriot was in my opinion a wonderful movie about the American revolutionary war, it was interesting, beautiful, even jaw-dropping at times having me on the edge of my seat the entire way through. The historical accuracy of the film never crossed my mind as I was too occupied with enjoying the actual movie and its characters. However for many viewers and critics of the film, especially those who did not find the movie itself entertaining, often bring up its historical inaccuracies as a way to discredit the film. And even though I myself really enjoyed the movie I must agree that it is definitely lacking in the “historical accuracy department”.

The movie was not all bad, as even a user by the name of Dann M writes on Rotten tomatoes…the costumes and set designs are quite elaborate and help give the film an authentic feel.” which is true, the costumes are almost as true to the original ones as can be and the set designs are also very well made, however more or less everything else was made up by the writers.

For example one of the more controversial artistic liberties that the writers took was regarding slavery, specifically black slaves. In the movie, the slaves are depicted as not much more as workers or servants, working beside their master, not doing overly physically demanding tasks, wearing nice clothes – all of this does not even come close to the way slaves were treated back in the day, even by the nicest masters. At the beginning of the movie, we see our main character Benjamin Martin assist one of his slaves in the plowing of the field. Never mind that a master doing a task aside his slaves was uncommon enough, but he also does the more physically demanding task of the two, working at the rear of the ox, sweaty, tired, and putting in copious amounts of effort. This would have been unacceptable at the time.

Even the character who Benjamin Martin was heavily Inspired by, Francis Marrion, a wealthy landowner who during his lifetime owned more than 200 slaves and expressed outstanding cruelty towards people of colour, in fact, his own slaves ran away from his plantation to fight for the British. And those were just some of the examples regarding slavery, I suffice it to say that not a single scene in this movie managed to represent black slave relations in a realistic manner.

Another major thing that the movie decided to take extensive artistic liberty on was our antagonist William Tavington. Though I understand that this was to give the story a main antagonist, sort of like the “evil bad guy” if you will so that the movie could be simplified and easier to process for the mainstream audience, it is still undeniable the effect it had on portraying the British in the movie. Though the character Tavington was based on, Banastre Tarleton was known for being cruel amongst the rebel ranks, he was nothing compared to how his counterpart was presented in the movie because unsurprisingly in life things aren’t as black and white as in movies, Tavington in The Patriot was sadistic, killing prisoners of war, children, AN ENTIRE VILLAGE JUST TO SET AN EXAMPLE. Even though Tarleton had had a case of killing surrendered enemy troops, there exists no record of him killing children or setting a church full of townsfolk on fire, the closest thing to that to ever happen history happened in World War 2 in Oradour-sur-Glane, France, which is probably where they got their inspiration from.

This sadistic portrayal of the general however carried over to British troops which left many viewers believing the movie was just anti-British propaganda. With A. J Black from We Made This Network saying that “While on the one hand a perfectly entertaining piece of blockbuster nonsense, on the other The Patriot and films like it are quite dangerous, especially to the world of 2020 in which patriotic nationalism has gained significant strength on the right of the American psyche.

There were many, MANY more historical inaccuracies in the film but these I found to be the most influential to the movie’s overall reception. That being said I still suggest you watch the movie for yourself and see how you like it, just take everything you see with a grain of salt as it is most likely not historically accurate.

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