Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the cinema... (cue Jaws theme...)


Meet Will Tavington.
He's cute. He's cool. He kicks Reb ass.
(What more could a Loyal Chick with Attitude want?!)

(thanks for the pics, Marg!)

From the same stable as Godzilla and Independence Day... Mel Gibson's latest assault on historical verisimilitude (given his track-record in Mad Max 4: the Woad Warrior (aka Braveheart), cause for trepidation...). Those of us involved in education and presenting historical information from a different viewpoint may be in for a bumpy ride in its wake, as a lot of expensive marketing and advertising has been thrown at this flag-waving farrago.

Mel plays a fictionalised Marion/Sumter/Morgan hybrid called Benjamin Martin, aka 'The Ghost', or else that curious fowl, the Greater Rednecked Swamp-Martin. Initially neutral, trying to live down a bloody reputation from the Seven Years' War, he joins the Rebel army after Lieut. Col. William Tavington of the 'Green Dragoons' (Ban Tarleton's propaganda image pushed to ludicrous extremes, but ably played by Jason Isaacs - a Liverpudlian, just in case you weren't sure who the character was meant to represent!), trashes his home and shoots one of his kids. (Mind, the kid was warned...) Will is also depicted casually ordering the slaughter of prisoners, the wounded, & c., and torching a churchful of civilians, including the female juvenile lead, Anne (Lisa Brenner). It need hardly be added this is most unBan-like... The main battles in it are Camden, Cowpens and Yorktown.

There's the usual negative stereotyping of our Lobsters and Loyal Americans, and sundry faux-pas (or, as we say in the 18C, fox-paws). The official site states that Martin "leads a brave rebel Militia into battle against a relentless and overwhelming English army". Never mind that an "English army" last did anything significant in Cromwell's time, and the British army of the late 18C was a quarter Scots, with nearly a third of the officers and about 16% of the men Irish...!!! Yet only one poor little wounded Scots private appears (only survivor of the first Martin family foray), and O'Hara is played as an Englishman! No sign of, say, Pattie, or - more surprisingly, given their closeness to Cornwallis - Jamie Webster or Nisbet Balfour! There's only one Loyal American with much of a speaking rôle - James Wilkins - and he's portrayed as arrogant, shifty, distrusted by both sides, and without moral backbone, while having the physical presence of a 'heavy', being built like a barn-door. (I bet he's a Rebel spy!)

Lisa, Bruce and I saw this at the New Picture House, sandwiched between 2 rows of Americans, so we felt inhibited from squawking and being too loudly subversive. However, I did make my sartorial statement by wearing my shirt with the little horsemen print, brooches containing pictures of Pattie and Ban, scarlet jacket à la militaire, green hair-ribbon and red shoe-ribbons. And yes, I had my GREEN lipstick on too!!!
We did notice 2-3 people walk out of the film.
We survived, but headed to the pub immediately to recover (stiff drinks a necessity!) and discuss some of the things which are in this review, and I ended up singing Cork City (aka Young Man Cut Down in His Prime or When I was on Horseback, Wasn't I Pretty?)...

"When I was on horseback, wasn't I pretty...?"

When I was on horseback, wasn't I pretty...?
"There goes a young man cut down in his prime..."
(but not if we can help it...)

Somewhat incongruously, given the macabre plot, The Patriot is beautifully shot.
Sadly, scriptwriter Robert Rodat wasn't.

The script was even worse than anticipated. No cliché left unspoken, no plot 'twist' that wasn't signposted in glowing neon, no real surprises... The 'flags and crosses' symbolism and 'family values' stuff had us reaching for the sick-bag. A lot of it was quite funny, except the bits where it was meant to be... Cowpens didn't look like it should (those ruins???) - and the chronology was weird in places (fighting Cowpens in October 1780?!).

Last year in Brattonsville, where it was being filmed, we had already received warnings from an on-set historian:

  • "Some of the characters may be historical, but the script isn't".
  • "None of the battles depicted are being shown the way they really happened".
  • "The characterisation of Cornwallis is...interesting". He's certainly depicted as too old - In 1780, Charlie was only 42: younger than Mel Gibson! He's shown fussing at a garden party re: losing his fancy uniforms. He makes unlikely comments about the unsporting targeting of officers, as if this was something new to warfare, rather than a risk they all knew and accepted. (Officers generally led from the front in this period, hence often suffered disproportionate casualties.) He's also shown giving Will carte blanche to use self-confessedly "brutal" methods against civilians.
  • The main character was fictionalised after the studio decided Mel was "too sexy" (ho-hum!) to play Francis Marion. Marion was short, middle-aged and arthritic; Mel just isn't arthritic.
  • Holley was also warned by a re-enactor at Cowpens, 15 Jan '00:
    "[One re-enactor] told me the one thing that bothered me the most about the movie. He related his meeting and talking with one of the scenery crew. The crew built a beautiful period church, right down to all the details. He described the beautiful ironwork they did on it. How it is being used in the movie is disturbing. Evidently there is a scene where the British (I imagine the Legion) herd a bunch of civilians into the church and then burn it down around them. I was horrified! I said, 'But the British never did that!' To which [the re-enactor] agreed, 'I know it. We all know it.' Can you imagine how all these people who go see the movie are going to believe it really happened - like they believe Wallace wore a kilt? What can we do? The only thing I can think of is to petition the producers into a disclaimer at the beginning to say that events in the film are not factual...that it's just a story. I seriously doubt that will happen."

    But as I've told her, the disclaimers are usually in very small type at the end of the movie, so no-one notices them...
    This incident is lifted from an atrocity committed by the SS in 1944 at Oradour in France. The scriptwriter must have had it left over from Saving Private Ryan... The MacDonalds did something similar at Trumpan on Skye in the 1570s (I think) when they torched a churchful of MacLeods during a service.
    BUT the Legion (despite including a number of MacDonalds) did NOT do anything like it in SC in 1780.

  • Meanwhile, we heard that the crew were all watching the video of Sweet Liberty... We KNEW that film was prophetic!!!

Fluffy but dangerous Most of the characters in the film didn't make it into a 3rd dimension. The cast struggled against the script, but only a few managed to beat it into submission and give performances which deserved better dialogue and characterisation. Mel Gibson's Ben Martin managed this in places, generally in the darker stuff (the sunny ending and attempts at humour didn't really gel); Chris Cooper (Harry) and Tom Wilkinson (Charlie C.) made the most of fairly small roles. Jason Isaacs, as Will Tavington, the Ban-substitute, was just too damn good at élan for the 2-D melodrama-villain way the character had been scripted. He carries off the cavalry-officer bearing absolutely perfectly: straight-backed, just the right blend of authority and swagger. In fact, the dice are so grossly loaded against the character, and the performance is so cool (as per Alan Rickman's Sheriff in Robin Hood) that nearly everyone I know has been rooting for him! It also helps that he's unquestionably the most handsome man in the whole film...

A lot of the domestic stuff was just plain dull: the film could have been shortened in several places with no great loss. We kept waiting for the thunder of hooves and gleam of sabres to liven things up: "Bring on the cavalry!" being muttered not infrequently. Our favourite scene: a small skirmish - handful of Legionnaires caught loafing around off guard (wot, no picket?!) in the morning by equally small no. of militia and springing into action in a credible manner, with our dashing Will killing Gabriel in the course of it. There was some impressive swashbuckling in the classic style (though normally that's the job of the guy the makers mean you to be rooting for: we were glad no-one told the scriptwriter that here!). More of that kind of rapid swordplay in small-scale actions, and the film might have been more fun!

Good taste is not a feature of this movie: Ben takes 2 of his little kiddies, Nathan and Samuel, on a killing spree to rescue Gabriel. Considering recent footage from Sierra Leone of tiny terrorists who had been trained to mutilate adults and even smaller children, and the campaigns by various international charities against the use of children in warfare, need this have been given so much screentime? Of course under-age lads were involved at the time - but surely it would have been enough to acknowledge it in passing without making it a major scene for allegedly sympathetic characters? Assisted by said armed and lethal sprogs, Ben defeats about a score of redcoats, who, clearly never having heard of team-work, decide to attack him ONE-AT-A-TIME... And even when one is running away, he brains him by throwing a tomahawk, and - in front of the children - continues to chop him up long after he's dead. Unsurprisingly, the kids look a little stunned to see Daddy covered head-to-foot in blood... The family motto is obviously "The Family That Slays Together Stays Together". Why does this remind me of the real-life Ben Cleveland...?

Meanwhile the 'hero''s old comrades were straight out of Deliverance... or King's Mountain. Expected them to start "duelling banjos" in the pub or around the campfire in the swamp... In a deleted scene, Will is implied to have one of them tortured after this foul specimen of questionable humanity spits in his face during questioning. I just hope he didn't catch anything: that probably qualifies as biological warfare.

The Smithsonian has been consulted re: civilian costume and social and domestic detailing, but its involvement has been used to cast a spurious air of authenticity over the whole film. The Legionnaires ('Green Dragoons') are wearing red jackets with only green facings - and yes, as in Sweet Liberty, the makers have said this is so audiences will know they're British...! (Some re-enactors were calling them "Santa's Killer Elves" as a result!) And as art lovers will notice, they are also wearing pretty run-of-the-mill black breeches, not the 'spray-on' white ones immortalised by Reynolds... I suppose the film-makers were desperate not to make it 100% certain that susceptible sections of the audience would desert to the Loyal cause...
To the victors the spoils - and the movie rights, so it seems! Hollywood currently seems to be keen on UK villains - they feel we're the one group it's 'safe' to maul in these days of PC... US films are made primarily for the domestic market: caricaturing minorities within the US now tends to be pounced on and criticised, as is right and proper, but audiences abroad, even in now-friendly countries, don't matter. After all, we're just a cultural colony, aren't we?...

Never mind that more drama can be wrung from a conflict in which there are likeable characters on both sides (see Bondarchuk's 1970 epic Waterloo for how it should be done: the heroes of the film are both Allied and French).

An "employee", so they claim...

Abigale began to wonder why, if she was an 'employee', she hadn't had a holiday in 40 years...

But the film's mealy-mouthed portrayal of the 'hero''s plantation workers as "employees" instead of slaves, and its racial tokenism are a dishonest manipulation of history. There's an invented 'proclamation by Washington' offering freedom to any slave who serves more than 12 months with the Rebels. This is a total fiction, and glosses over the fact that Dunmore's proposed Loyal 'Æthiopian Regiment' drove the Virginia planters further towards the cause of, erm, 'Liberty'! We don't see any incidents like the beheading of Harry - a Black Loyalist courier and spy whose head was left on a stake by the real-life Marion's men in 1782. A contemporary record of this is on The OnLine Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies, in the section on Black Loyalists. No - Ben Martin has to be seen as a friend to ethnic minorities. You wouldn't think from The Patriot that emancipation took another 90 years and another civil war to achieve... rather more time and effort than it took this country. Yes, the film cannot so much as suggest that, had the Colonies remained part of the British Empire, slavery would have been abolished over 30 years sooner... Spike Lee has spoken out about this, anyway!

Now let's break down The Patriot according to the 3 Golden Rules of Hollywood, as defined by the film's obvious template, the fictional film in Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty:

  1. Defy authority
  2. Destroy property
  3. Take people's clothes off.


  1. Defy authority: approx 99%
    Nearly everybody does in every possible context.
  2. Destroy property: 100%
    Lots of destruction of everything, property, persons, animals: you name it, it gets trashed. The church-burning... A gratuitous slander against the Legion, this really angered us, and it wasn't even moving because the victims were cardboard 2-D wallpaper-characters (the grinning female juvenile lead included) that you didn't care much about any of them. For characters' deaths to have an effect on you, their lives have to have mattered to you first.
  3. Take people's clothes off: 0%
    Falls badly at this hurdle.
    Nikki, who, braving the NY audiences, wolfwhistled his every appearance, has generously offered to assist Sweet William in rectifying this. (Join the very long queue, dear...! ;-D) Marg wants to throw the same young officer into the nearest hayloft (raising question of etiquette: with or without spurs? - She claims to find the jingling noise "inspiring"... Hmm...!). More on this later...

However, there was quite enough déshabille and décolletage among both sexes to keep everyone happy:

Re: the women:

Charlotte's Remarkable Decolletage...As Charlotte, Joely Richardson's wondrously screen-filling heaving bosom confirmed the validity of Pattie Ferguson's research in 1766 re: the effects of 18C corsetry. (He claimed that Parisian ladies had neither haunches nor breasts, but that their dresses were constructed so as to give the impression they did. He had evidently unwrapped some to check!) The effect is quite, erm, remarkable if you're sitting near the front, and watching her hyperventilate whenever Ben Martin approaches her...! Overspill is a real danger!
She's meant to be a widow, but certainly isn't dressed appropriately, sometimes being seen with loose, uncovered hair and usually in light colours... She ends up basically in her underwear.

Lisa Brenner as Anne is pretty, but the character is just plain irritating. I know of self-diagnosed 'patriotic' Americans who still admitted to being relieved when she went up in smoke. She came across not so much as "outspoken and principled" as "stroppy teenager encouraging other people to go out and get killed".

Re: the menfolk:

Being long past teenybopper-hood, we were not convinced that Gabriel Martin (Heath Ledger) was the film's real pin-up boy: not only is he on the other side and looks about 12, but as Jane Ann and Howard, both Molesworth fans, say, he reminds them of "that wet and weed", "ickle-pritty" Basil Fotherington-Thomas:
"Hullo sky hullo sun hullo Liberty! Hullo Colonel Tavington, shall we dansey-dansey?"

(Thanks, Howard, that's inspired!)

hullo sky, hullo sun, hullo Liberty

Basil Fotherington-Thomas

by Ronald Searle

And who is this who skip weedily up to me, eh? 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky,' he sa. 'Hullo Liberty!' - You hav guessed it is dere little gabriel fotherington-martin.

'Bang to rites,' sa curnel molesworth... 'he is a SPY. let us hang him now and put his boddy on displa, so all will se wot becums of weeds and girlies who skip and dansey-dansey and sa 'hullo sun hullo trees'.'

Though I suppose we should be grateful it wasn't Leonardo di Caprio...

At the other end of the age-spectrum, Mel has now reached the age at which he no longer seems to be contractually obliged to take his pants off. Thank goodness. Even when we were all much younger, I wasn't a great fan of this little trait of his. He always struck me as rather bland-looking, anyway. Now he's bland and wrinkly.

So what is there for 30-something Loyal Chicks with Attitude to enjoy...? Um, well... Send for the cavalry!!! ;-DSwashbuckling furiously...

Re: that skirmish again...

Will just snapping into action and cutting loose with sabre in one hand, pistol in the other, while looking magnificently Byronic: hair streaming to his shoulders, and chest delectably bare... ("A sweet disorder in the dress...")

Marg said she couldn't believe they'd intentionally given what she called "such an obvious titillation scene" or "droolfest" to the nominal villain... (Snurk!).

But hell, our team deserves some eye-candy for enduring the rest of the film...!!!

Some Americans in the St. A's audience cheered when Gabriel shot and wounded Will... Bastards!
So, guess WHO cheered a few moments later when he skewered Gabriel on sabre-point?!!! (Snurk!)

i give you 1 guess it is me... delited at the fate of ickle pretty fotherington-martin...

I was more worried, too, about the nasty-looking gash along Will's rib... He needs some TCP and a dressing, probably some stitches...
"There, there, my poor dear..." To quote our Canadian correspondent, Marg:

You'd think they wanted the whole female contingent of the audience to switch sides, wouldn't you? First, he looks gorgeous, then he buckles a good swash, then he gets damaged, and we all want to nurse him back to health. (Well, I suppose the Heath Ledger fans don't <G>)!

On the DVD we armchair Florence Nightingales have the additional treat of seeing Sweet William back at the surgeon's, being harangued again by the General even while he's just had his wound tended: "Leave the poor dear alone, he's hurt..." I think that was cut because it makes everyone root for him (if they weren't doing so already!): it's just too mean-spirited to bully an injured man. Especially if he's looking adorably vulnerable in a bloodstained frilly shirt.

That poor, brave, wounded boy needs a Doctor..

Vulnerability is so appealing...To quote Holley:

Holy Moly! No way could the producers have let those scenes into the movie. The man is much too hunky gorgeous to allow upon an unsuspecting American public. Yum!!!

Not since Daniel Day-Lewis's 'Hawkeye' in Last of the Mohicans have flowing locks, smouldering eyes and bare chest been deployed quite so alluringly in an 18C Colonial setting, and frankly, Will wins hands down, being an altogether more sophisticated and classy creature. (Rustic simplicity and the smell of raw pelts have limited appeal. Besides, Fenimore Cooper knew better than Michael Mann: a name like Natty Bumppo automatically disqualifies the bearer from being a romantic lead...)

However, as the saying goes, Don't get attached to him!
Just a couple of days later, despite what must be a very painful left side, our valiant Will is back in action at Cowpens, where a gruesome and far-too-unsubtly-symbolic fate awaits his horse (I've sometimes wondered what some kebabs are made of...! And I thought Americans were touchy about 'disrespectful use of the flag'!). Will himself gets on the wrong end of Martin's bayonet. Twice - in the lower ribs and upper chest / right shoulder (the novelisation says throat, but it looks more like an attempt to reach the subclavian artery or the lung under the collarbone). Fatally. Or so we are meant to assume. The poor lad already has an unhealed rib injury from skirmishing with Fotherington-Martin, a nasty fall from his horse, a flesh-wound in the left arm, and a knife-gash on his right breast.
Let me through, I'm a doctor...
(Mind, since we don't see a burial... let's hope the real reason we don't see him at Yorktown is that he's convalescing either in NY or Charleston, dealing with Loyalist claims before taking up a post and a land-grant in NS or NB, or else at home at some trendy spa (Bath, Buxton or Harrogate), getting much-deserved TLC from the belles for being a brave, handsome, wounded war-hero!)

A Scarlet (Charlie) O'HaraHonourable mention for being decorative above and beyond the call of military duty also goes to Brigadier Charles ('Scarlett') O'Hara, as played by Peter Woodward - much cuter than the real-life O'Hara, but sadly portrayed as what Janie called "Cornwallis' witless aide".

The 'happy ending' post-Cowpens - Yorktown, house-rebuilding, & c - felt tacked-on and puke-inducing. However, from viewing the Cowpens scene - the way the climactic duel was filmed, the dark undercurrents in Ben Martin, his fear that he is being paid back for his past, & c., I felt strongly that Rodat had toyed with the idea of having him and Will kill each other in the moment of victory. It would have been dramatically far more effective, and if you stopped the film at the point, you wouldn't know it wasn't meant to be that way. Indeed, the Director's Commentary on the DVD confirms that the film could have ended with a last shot of Ben staring at the flag going on, as he collapses, badly wounded, after carving up Sweet William... Does either of them live? That's up to your imaginations, folks...!

Is this another case of preview audiences scuppering things? Or backing off because Gladiator had killed its 2 male leads?

Test-drive Whistleworld's own spoof trailer:

The Scud

(We felt the text of the original was equally applicable to the plight of Loyal Americans!)

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