It is often difficult to get a clear idea of what life might have been like during major events such as the Revolutionary War. For the most part, I think of my ancestors as stiff individuals who didn’t possess a shred of humor or romance. Watching films such as this always surprises me how very human they were. They loved, died, had hopes and dreams, planned for the future, struggled through the hard times, and went through all of the things we still go through today. When the film is about a historical event such as the Revolutionary War, though, we also get a better sense of what things were really like.
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At the beginning of the movie, when everyone is in Charlestown at the general assembly, Captain Martin (Mel Gibson’s character) reminds the people that a war against Britain will not be fought far from home in the wilderness while the women and children remain safe at home. The war was fought in the villages and towns right in full view of the women and children and many times including them in the skirmish. Men fired weapons of mass destruction at each other in the afternoon that had just been plowed by the farmers that morning. I think what really brought these ideas home to me were the many scenes where Aunt Charlotte (Joely Richardson) and the children were included in very close proximity to the battle scenes and the scene when the British burned the church with all the citizens locked inside.
There were a lot of elements in the film that were historically factual. This started with the costumes and the available weaponry that the soldiers on both sides were using as well as the potential damage these weapons could inflict on the human body. Other aspects of social life, such as the number of children Ben had, the idea that the mother had died at a young age, the presence of black people working as servants and slaves, and the idea that children participated in the fighting and dying, were also accurate. The film even shows some of the men who made up the militia (otherwise farmers) turning their heads away as they fired their guns so that they wouldn’t have to watch the man they were shooting at die. These men hadn’t been socially conditioned through video games and war films to be able to look human death in the face without feeling like murderers and it was obvious.
Although they seemed to try to make the film as historically accurate as possible, I did notice some inconsistencies. When Captain Martin is told about Bunker Hill, it was true that the British charged three times before they succeeded, but he says that the Continentals killed more than 700 British soldiers before the battle was over and uses this to demonstrate the level of their commitment to violence. In reality, only about 200 British soldiers were killed. The film may have allowed the character to deliberately exaggerate the number in order to persuade his audience or may have allowed him to tell the truth but tell it to slant since more than 700 British soldiers were wounded in the battle and were thus at least removed from the fighting numbers. Another historical inaccuracy was the use of the American flag, as a red and white striped banner and a blue field with a circle of stars, as the universal Continental banner. This flag wasn’t made until after the Revolutionary War was over. Each group of Continental fighters typically carried a different flag, usually something more closely related to their colony of residence.