The Movie Villain Hall of Fame: Col. William Tavington

Jason Isaacs The Patriot

“You know, it’s an ugly business doing one’s duty … but just occasionally it’s a real pleasure.”
— Col. William Tavington, The Patriot (2000)

It definitely takes a certain, special kind of asshole to say the above to a man whose kid you needlessly gunned down right in front of him.

I mean, it makes me angry just looking at the guy’s picture while I’m writing this up. The long, flowing hair worthy of a romance novel cover. That smug look of determination and entitlement. The kind of English accent that makes everything he says to you sound like a personal affront. Taken all together and you have yourself one effortless entry into the Cult Spark Movie Villain Hall of Fame with The Patriot‘s Col. William Tavington.

First off, let’s give credit where credit is due. Jason Isaacs plays the role like a kid unwrapping a Christmas gift, and, as a result, you can’t help but hate this character to the point where you actually start to love him. The enjoyment being had by Isaacs as he’s playing this truly despicable villain is plain as day, clear cut in many scenes and marked by a devilish twinkle in his eyes and a tiny little smile turning up the corners of his mouth. Isaacs has played bad before, most notably as Draco Malfoy’s asshole dad in the Harry Potter films, but his work in The Patriot eclipses that by a wide stretch. Which is saying something because Malfoy’s dad was quite the asshole.

The Patriot itself is one hell of a goofy movie that should not be taken as a record of historical fact. If you think otherwise, I’d also like to refer you to the film Independence Day, which few people know was based on an actual event that happened back in the 1950s. And speaking of ID4, that film’s director, Roland Emmerich, heads up this feast of insanity and delivers a film that’s basically the American Revolution, George R. R. Martin style. It’s actually kind of crazy how many of its characters get offed by the end, many of them at the hands of — or on direct orders from — Col. Tavington himself. The film is still entertaining, engaging and violent as all hell. But if you’re not laughing hysterically by the time a flag-carrying Mel Gibson straight-arms a pistol and shoots some dude in the face, all in the middle of this huge battle, I’d be pretty surprised.

Tavington pretty much steals the movie, as it’s hard to look away from him whenever he’s onscreen. He’s a mad dog dressed up in a military uniform, the kind of man whose lack of compassion and generally cruel behavior makes him perfectly suited for war. Mel Gibson is dependable as always as protagonist Benjamin Martin, and you can feel the tension between him and Tavington in the handful of scenes we get with them facing off against each other. By the time the Colonel meets his well deserved demise at Martin’s hands, you’ll likely applaud it. I could have used maybe another ten minutes of the light slowly draining out of his eyes for all the truly wretched acts this man was responsible for during the course of the film, but, hey, we don’t always get what we want.

Col. Tavington is one of those scumbag villains who toe the line between being a completely ridiculous caricature and someone truly threatening. There’s an evil on display here that’s far too familiar, the kind of posturing and lack of consideration for others that never seems to be far even now, a couple of hundred years after the events on display here. Thanks to Jason Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the perfect setting for this character to strut his stuff, Col. William Tavington is completely worthy of making the cut for the Cult Spark Movie Villain Hall of Fame.