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Not Just a Pretty Face: The Heroines of The Patriot
By Hannah P.
The film The Patriot , released in 2000, tells the story of Benjamin Martin and his desire to protect his family from the impending Revolutionary War. When the battle is brought straight to his doorstep, he discovers that the only way to defend them is to fight for the freedom and unification of a nation.
In a story about the passionate patriotism of revolutionaries set against the bloody backdrop of the Revolutionary War, one might not expect to find much in the way of romance. But in spite of the warfare, there are two charming and very different love stories between Benjamin Martin and Charlotte Selton, the sister of Benjamin’s late wife, and between Gabriel Martin (Benjamin’s eldest son) and Ann Howard.
Gabriel and Ann’s relationship began when they were childhood friends. His teasing and silly tricks didn’t endear him to Ann, but when they meet again later in life Gabriel’s patriotic convictions, desire for unity and passionate spirit impress Ann, who is just as much of an ardent patriot as he is. Their mutual love of freedom and independence bring them together. Their relationship is lighthearted and flirtatious, full of youthful spirit and enthusiasm. Gabriel courts Ann through brief visits and writes letters to her from the battlefield. He tells her about his experiences in the war, the growing militia force, and other wartime matters, but also talks at length about his feelings for her. Through their correspondence they form a close relationship that blossoms into love. When Benjamin and Gabriel are given a weeklong furlough from fighting, the Howard family comes to join them at the slave settlement where they are staying. There, in the company of their family and friends Gabriel and Ann are married. They don’t have much time to spend together but make the most of the time they have. Their love becomes a guiding light for each of them on the dark horizon of war and uncertainty.
Ann’s role is a small one because the film’s main focus is on the war effort. However, Ann’s influence on the story is too great to ignore. Ann is passionate, earnest, strong-willed and ready to speak her mind. When Gabriel comes to her town to try to recruit the men into joining the militia, they are reluctant to enlist. Upon seeing their fear and hesitancy, Ann speaks out against their cowardice and reminds them of their belief in independence and of their duty to their country. She encourages them not to stop at only words, but to act upon the beliefs that they have strongly spoken for in the past. Her words spark the fire of patriotism in their hearts and Gabriel fans it into flame by recruiting the men and leading them into battle.
Unlike Gabriel and Ann, Benjamin and Charlotte’s romance begins much later into their relationship. Benjamin married Charlotte’s sister many years before the film’s beginning, but her death leaves him to raise seven children on his own. His wife’s death helps him appreciate his children more, and draws the family together. Benjamin’s family becomes his main priority, and his reason for not joining the war despite being a skilled soldier. Since his children no longer have a mother, Charlotte provides the guiding hand, gentle nurturing and wise counsel in their mother’s stead. She strives to help her family in their time of need, and during this time her relationship with Benjamin grows deeper and more profound. Their feelings develop into love over time as they come to rely on one another. Their relationship is one of dignified politeness and mutual respect. They aren’t as open with their emotions as their younger counterparts. They don’t need to say much to one another; one glance between them can communicate the depth of their feelings better than any number of spoken words. However, they don’t avoid exhibiting their feelings towards one another forever. After Gabriel and Ann’s marriage Benjamin and Charlotte share a quiet moment in which they finally express their love with a tender kiss. Later, they become more open with their relationship and even express it in front of Benjamin’s children (to his children’s great delight).
Charlotte doesn’t speak out against the English oppression or rally soldiers to fight for the cause of freedom. But her courage in the face of danger, quick mind and caring heart speak volumes just the same. She cares for her family deeply and takes in her nieces and nephews without a thought for the trouble it might bring her. When the British soldiers, led by the villainous Colonel Tavington, storm Charlotte’s house one night in search of Benjamin’s children, she hides them in the cellar and then helps lead them to safety, staying with them and caring for them like their own mother would have. She loses everything to the British soldiers, but remains strong and perseveres through the hard times afterwards.
While Charlotte and Ann have very different personalities, they share many virtues. They display courage, hope, determination, faith, compassion and gentleness. They impact the men in their lives in many ways. Gabriel’s relationship with Ann helps him to grow and mature, giving him strength and focus. In the beginning of the film, Gabriel and Benjamin are at odds about the war. When Gabriel can’t understand why his father is so against it, Benjamin tells Gabriel, “When you have a family of your own, perhaps you’ll understand.” Gabriel later admits the truth of those words when he tells his father of his engagement and upcoming marriage to Ann. Their relationship is a testament to what love can be if grown and nurtured over time. In contrast, Benjamin and Charlotte’s romance is more quiet and restrained. Charlotte provides steady emotional support and quiet encouragement for Benjamin and a place of refuge for his children. Benjamin respects her for it and trusts her to look after his family when he is forced to go away.
Love is an anchor, binding people together with a bond not easily broken. It can be a guiding light, and something one can hold to even when nothing else remains. The Patriot is a story about a country fighting for it’s independence, but at its heart it is a story about love. Love of country, love of freedom, love of family and romantic love. It is also a story of strength; physical strength, emotional strength, strength of heart and strength of relationships. The characters of this story exhibit these qualities in abundance, demonstrating them through the trials of war, especially the women. Charlotte and Ann don’t go to war but they both help fight the battle for freedom in their own way. Someone once said, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” This story proves the validity of that statement.
(Formerly published in the Costume Chronicles webzine - http://www.costumechronicles.com/ - )