July 24, 2000
"You're going where?" my leftwing (but surprisingly intelligent) friend said. Surprised, and more than a little amused by this reaction I repeated that I was going to see the Patriot. "You're giving money to Mel Gibson?" Well, yes. I was surprised, for while not the self-hater that many lefties are I would not have put him on as a rabid English nationalist. Moreover, if the American Revolution was not a victory for progress towards the left in some sort of way, what in heaven's name was? I am saying this as a royalist, proudly British, religiously minded person; republican, cosmopolitan, agnostics should see this far more clearly. So why has a film that states that the American Revolution was a good thing so raised the hackles in a society that largely accepts that it was on the wrong side of this scrap?
Why has a film that in the end makes a uncontroversial point, that the American Revolution was a hard fought and bitter war for a just cause, met with so much derision over here? Brits don't care about the same things that the American liberals care about, we don't care about guns and kids, its Hollywood and we're used to it. The blood and soil allusions go over our head, as do any Teutonic links to axe wielders. So all those conservatives who have said that criticism of the Patriot is akin to supporting Hilary Clinton are simply wrong (and a bit silly). In addition, it is not sour grapes; Gandhi shows that we are actually rather good at making films bashing ourselves, thank you very much. As far as anti-Americanism goes, this really does not wash in a market that takes just about any Hollywood blockbuster going.
The main complaint is actually that the film tells fibs. Now before I get one more e-mail saying "hey it's entertainment" just let me know what was remotely entertaining about the church burning? Now it may be a synonym for Waco, but Waco was done by the Feds not the redcoats. Let me assure you that I fully recognise the difference between an inaccuracy (the French banner with Parisian red in it before the Revolution?), a genuflection to political correctness (those black farmhands were servants yeah, right) and downright pick-a-fight slander. The church burning was not a jokey moment, and The Patriot is not a lightweight film. It is intended in part to show that the American Revolution actually meant something, and to make up an atrocity means that many critics can now say that it means nothing. That in itself was a bad, bad thing. Truth matters because history matters. If we do not understand from where we spring, we will not be able to steer where we are going. This may sound more profound than my usual offerings (which usually means I've unconsciously plagiarised it from somewhere) but it doesn't make it false. The church burning was wrong because it didn't happen. Now I know we did have prison hulks, but to argue that this justifies the church burning is stupid. It argues for the inclusion of prison hulks (or slave beating or tarring and feathering loyalists) and not of fictitious church burning. I mean look at the title of this. If I called it "The Truth Matters" or "Well, actually I rather liked the Patriot and would recommend seeing it" you wouldn't have even clicked on this column, would you? However, it does not make it a better column, and in the long term will probably detract from its value.
Waco is rather apt, in a strange sort of way. Do you remember Waco? You know the real, live burning of a church with real, live innocent people being burned. Well remember the sort of untruths that started that off. They were abusing children (untrue). They were planning a takeover of the city (laughable). They were manufacturing drugs (if they were they'd obviously sold too many to the BATF). That they were led by an unusual chap was true and that they held some, well, unorthodox opinions may have been true but they did not justify this massacre. That other religious groups in history have done bad things also does not justify this waste of life. You see, the truth matters, and how many of the people who watched this film will really believe that the English did not burn the church down?
Now my British readers may be feeling ignored here, so I will say now; you, too, can like this film. Just follow some simple instructions:
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