Capturing America’s Fight for Freedom

Smithsonian experts help the makers of Mel Gibson’s new movie, The Patriot, create scenes and bring the conflict’s many factions into sharper focus

Wikimedia Commons

As the sun sinks beneath the darkening South Carolina sky, British armies camped on distant fields fade into shadow. Their threatening numbers hover heavy as fog in the minds of commanders in the Patriot encampment, who grope for a way to defeat them.

In this scene from the new Revolutionary War film, The Patriot, Mel Gibson, who plays militiaman Benjamin Martin, tells American officers how to use their ragtag militia effectively. The trappings of battle surrounding them — tents, ammunition boxes, medical kits, campaign furniture — have been forged from information provided by the Smithsonian.

Indeed, director Roland Emmerich and his production company, Centropolis Entertainment, have gone to great lengths to create authenticity in the film, enlisting the help of experts at the Smithsonian to advise on uniforms, weapons, battle formations and more. Files at Smithsonian Entertainment, the office that brings commercial ventures such as The Patriot and museum experts together, reveal advice on everything from the weather at particular battles to the furnishings in 18th-century American houses.

And consultations resulted in numerous revisions to the script, including the creation of an entirely new set — a Gullah maroon (or runaway slave) village. Smithsonian adviser Rex Ellis recommended the village as a place where Martin's family could hide from vindictive British soldiers.

Roland Emmerich admits that at times he had to choose between historical accuracy and dramatic impact, but that overall, the museum experts and filmmakers were "a pretty good duo."

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