Divided Loyalties

Hurrah! A film in which we can cheer the good guys with impunity! That's because this is a Canadian TV movie about Thayendanegea Joseph Brant of the Mohawk Nation! Yes - a celebration of the Loyalists of the First Nations!

This is a most enjoyable film, especially the depiction of life around Johnson Hall - which idyllically - but not inaccurately - shows the co-operative relationships developed by Sir William between Mohawks and white settlers, including the Highland Catholics from Glengarry. (A wedding scene shows kilted Highlanders, Mohawks and other whites dancing reels together!)

The weak spots are in that Thayendanegea is depicted as making his journey to London alone - in reality he was with one of the Johnsons, but I can see the dramatic reasons for this - and also in the handling of the Cherry Valley massacre. The film implies it's Walter Butler's fault, and suggests a larger scale of destruction than occurred. In reality, 31-2 non-combatants were killed in only 7 houses (out of 40 houses in the whole village), which suggests that it was the result of a small number of warriors getting out of hand, rather than a deliberate order by either Butler or Thayendanegea. This possibly weakens the full impact of the film's depiction of the vastly disproportionate Rebel response - Washington's order to Sullivan to launch a campaign of mass destruction against the Iroquois, in which over 40 Indian towns (one of over 100 houses) and crops were destroyed.

There are some fine performances by First Nations actors: Tantoo Cardinal's portrayal of Molly Brant is particularly impressive. Her importance as a matriarch among the Mohawks and as a facilitator of dialogue with the whites through her marriage to Sir William is brought out very effectively - also the racist responses to this which dismiss her as a 'mistress' under white law.

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