Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, is styled after Francis Marion (aka "The Swamp Fox"), but departs from the famous Revolutionary War guerrilla fighter in several ways. Though Marion (like the fictional Martin) hailed from South Carolina, fought in the French and Indian War, and waged guerrilla war against the British in the Revolutionary War, Marion was a slave owner (whereas Gibson's Martin pointedly did not own slaves) and several of Martin's exploits in The Patriot were naturally fictionalized. Some critics of Francis Marion and The Patriot (which they perceive to have glorified him - albeit indirectly) go even further by alleging that the real Francis Marion was a vicious racist who, not only owned slaves, but hunted Native Americans "for sport." Marion has, in his own right, been the focus of past television treatments, most notably Disney's The Swamp Fox. Leslie Nielson played Marion.
Whatever the nature of Francis Marion's legacy, The Patriot has plenty of controversy in its own right. Its depiction of British atrocities (particularly the burning of civilians in a church) understandably outraged many British citizens, though in fairness that brutality was carried out by a rogue cavalry officer styled after the hated Banastre Tarleton.
The film does have great cinematography, costuming, and special effects. And it boasts some of the best battle scenes and action sequences in any recent war epic. The savage tomahawk scene (see above) is among the most memorable. Whether it's realistic for a guy with a tomahawk (click here to see a similar tomahawk to the one Martin used) to take down a dozen British soldiers (the rest, he shot) is a discussion for another time. The scene is nevertheless cool - though it is brutal and helps earn The Patriot an appropriate R rating.
The Patriot is not the most accurate historical film ever made - not by a long shot. But it was refreshing to see the Revolutionary War brought to the Big Screen. Here's to hoping Hollywood does more American Revolution films.
The Patriot is available via Amazon on Demand and via DVD.
Walt Disney's The Swamp Fox is available via DVD.
If you'd like to add a Revolutionary War style tomahawk to your wall (or collection) in the spirit of The Patriot and Benjamin Martin, take a look at this Hand Forged Revolutionary War Tomahawk with Hickory Handles.