The Howards of Virginia
A young Virginia man whose father and uncle had died fighting with the British during the French and Indian War builds a great plantation, befriends Thomas Jefferson, and learns to oppose his Loyalist relations and become a patriot. The Howards of Virginia is a cliché ridden tribute to American patriotism, produced at a time when the United States was divided over whether to provide financial and military support to England, which was at the time fighting a losing battle against Nazi Germany.
In the film, George Washington makes occasional appearances, as does fellow Virginian Patrick Henry, and stirring patriotic phrases creep in and out of the film’s dialogue. Matt Howard, the film’s protagonist portrayed by Cary Grant, goes through the requisite crisis of conscience while his more impetuous sons know what fate has drawn them to do, and act accordingly. When one is wounded while attempting to deliver a message to Lafayette, the father is spurred to action.
While not historically inaccurate, although it does on occasion place certain historical personages in the wrong place at the wrong time, The Howards of Virginia does little to explain the causes of the rebellion against the King beyond the too often overworked “struggle against tyranny.” Virginia was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor for reasons often different from their New England brethren – many of them linked to England’s control of the slave trade – but these themes are unexplored.
The film does touch on the disillusionment of loyalists who feel that an uneducated and unruly mob will never replace the law and order offered by a king but such sentiments are washed away in patriotic fervor. All in all, the film could be placed with any of America’s wars as its backdrop, including the one about to take place as it was made in 1940.