Before you ask, yes, this post truly is nothing more than an indulgent piece of my own making, but do you know what? Colonel William Tavington is one of the greatest villains to have ever hit the screen and even fifteen years later after the release of ‘The Patriot’, the character still remains one of the most endearing factors of an otherwise bloated, nonsensical mess of a blockbuster directed by Herr Roland Emmerich.
The film shamelessly glosses over the existence of slavery (another appalling crime against humanity just like war) and makes no qualms in making it utterly certain Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin has no truly discerning ambiguity because HE’S THE HERO. I will give credit to the fact that not all of the Redcoats are portrayed as forces of faceless, malevolent evil and it has itself a respectable cast of actors such as Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson,Tcheky Karyo, Chris Cooper and of course the late Heath Ledger, all of which who rise above and do a respectable job with the material they are given, however two-dimensional most of it is.
Jason Isaacs made a hell of an international debut as one of the meanest, cruelest, morally reprehensible creatures to have ever existed on the big screen in a role that almost wasn’t his. Originally, Kevin Spacey was contracted to play the role but due to a lot of the budget heading up in Gibson’s favor, they could not afford another big name and unfortunately Spacey had to drop out. Before I continue, I would like to express a sense of “if only” that he wasn’t cast. Spacey is a wonderful and versatile actor who would have easily fit the role like a glove and no doubt would have made an equally indelible impression on the audience- screw you, Gibson. Afterward, the casting agent made a frenzied rush to fill the role and Isaacs auditioned for the role at the Eleventh Hour and as they say, the rest was history. Given Isaacs wasn’t as well known outside of his native UK, he was a lot easier to afford and while there was a certain risk that his name wouldn’t have drawn in double the crowds, Gibson’s presence alone was enough to at least get the butts in seats before everybody realised that the true star of the movie was Isaacs.
What could have been.
Tavington is a cold-blooded, vindictive son of a snake who is all too ready to throw down with anybody who dares crosses him. According to Herr Roland and co., Tavington was inspired by real life Redcoat Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton who was rumored to have been one of the most dangerous and blood-thirsty members of the British Army during the Revolution. I don’t know how much of this is factually substantiated, but for the sake of discussion, we can all credit the actions of a real-life monster for the creation of a fictional one.
Although the character admits that his primarily motivation for joining the British Green Dragoons was to regain the fortune and reputation that his late father had squandered, there is no doubt in your mind that he is a beast who is nourished by the brutality and unfairness of war. Even his fellow soldiers and superior General Cornwallis decry his brutal tactics, saying that the Colonies are still their kin and when the war is over, they are to re-open positive communications. However, Tavington has no time or inclination of being civilized- to him, war is war and war is never fair. He gets off from conflict and nothing makes his blood hotter than to kill another man while looking into his eyes to see their final moments of fear, confusion and pain.
“You know, it’s an ugly business doing one’s duty… but just occasionally… it’s a real pleasure.”
Let’s have a look at all of the crimes Tavington is responsible for, directly and indirectly;
* A bad attitude that smells worse than a skunk’s underpants.
* Countless war crimes if the verbal condemnations of his peers are to be believed.
* Systematic torture interrogations of Colonial peoples, enlisted and civilian (deleted scene).
* Mass murder of enemy soldiers and innocents, first, second and third degree- a key example of course being the infamous church scene of which he gives the order and the torch to Adam Baldwin’s turncoat Wilkins to do the deed. The expression Wilkins has on his face when he sets pyre to pitch says it all- he has committed an unforgivable sin and Tavington has taken his very soul.
* Property damage and destruction (duh).
* Disobedience and sedition of commanding peers and military orders on and off the battlefield. The man argues with CORNWALLIS on several occasions even though he really should know better.
* Child killing. Okay, that still goes under the previous point of mass murder but it was his non-hesitant and sudden execution of Benjamin Martin’s second-eldest child that truly kicked the movie’s story into motion. The fact he feels no remorse or guilt over the action compounds his lack of a moral compass which can all be summed up in his line following the incident- “Stupid boy.”. The point may be scoffed at now, but it was undoubtedly one of the moments of inspired cruelty the film had up it’s sleeve and it is a powerful moment that hits home how foul Tavington is. Later when Martin arrives to Cornwallis’s base in North Carolina to treat with the General to let his captured men go, Tavington uses this sensitive point to goad Martin into acting out right then and there just so he can have the satisfaction of killing him under otherwise parlay conditions. This man LIVES to cause suffering to those he deems below him and makes no attempt at hiding it.
* Being disgustingly handsome while doing it.
I won’t lie. This scene is pure pornography to me.
Oh yes, about that last point.
Jason Isaacs’ performance pretty much single-handedly seduced me to the dark side of loving the villains in the fictional medium. I had always favored villains before that point, finding them to be the best parts of any story, but Tavington elevated that appreciation to a level of near if not complete worship. I should make a brief statement here that the worship I feel for the baddies are FICTIONAL, not tyrants of our actual history or present. I can’t accurately pinpoint as to why it was Tavington that caused that change, but it was practically an immediate response that still has not yet been topped. Oh sure, there have been LOTS of wonderful villains who are the best at the worst they do, but Tavington still remains ever the milestone for me and his ice shard eyes and cold and subtly predacious looks play a huge part of it. Call me shallow, but also call me honest because that’s how I roll.
I will tell you this much though- back when this film came out, every straight girl in my class were expressing their crushes on Ledger save for me- Tavington was the one I daydreamed about, Tavington was the one I crushed on and I made no attempt at hiding it- the rest of those vanilla girls be damned. It was this character that ravished me and encouraged me to full on embrace the forces of malevolence and I haven’t looked back since. Although I was for the most part alone in feeling this way, it wasn’t until I met some like-minded Sick Sisters who harbored the same desires (shout out to Miss Marcey and Miss Heather Seebach <3) that I realised that Tavington really is a very fondly remembered character despite his horrendous ways. It takes a huge amount of charisma to earn that type of appreciation and it goes to show how fantastic an actor Jason Isaacs truly is. The character is completely basic textbook evil on paper and he could have been yet another run-off-the-mill baddie, but Isaacs imbues the character with his own spark that he all but truly owns the role. I’m so glad this film catapulted him into international stardom and his star continues to shine brightly .
No, ‘The Patriot’ is not the great movie it was originally hyped up to be nor is it historically or culturally sensitive, but damn if it does not have one of the most darkest, most devious hellspawns to ever grab our attention. Fifteen years on and Col. William Tavington is still one of the best of the worst.