Friday, 3 July 2015

Black Sails

The cast of Black Sails having a moody moment.
It is not often we write about televisual entertainment on this blog, but Black Sails is enough of an exception to warrant it. Part of the brave new generation of programmes that have been ushered into being by the advent of internet delivered digital entertainment, Black Sails is the creation of Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine, and chronicles the bloody careers of pirates on New Providence Island in the Bahamas in the first quarter of the 18th century.

Black Sails hit small screens in January 2014, and had some air time on YouTube as well. IIRC, I watched it on Netflix here in the UK. I have just finished watching the second series, and understand that funding has been made available for a third. The show certainly still has plenty of momentum.

It reminds me a little of a James Clavell novel, if Clavell had thought to write about pirates in the Caribbean. There is something of Tai Pan in this saga, which keeps track of multiple characters, all with their own treacherous foibles and ambitions, all trying to make a fast buck, while those with wider vision seek to protect Nassau from what they see as the inevitable retribution of the British.

Unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, this series is a far more brutal affair. There is also plenty of sexual adventuring across all sorts of boundaries, plus the expected beaches and palm trees to make it all look good. The special effects, particularly around the sea battles, are fantastic and convincing.

But it is really the characters that stand out, including Captain Flint (yes, that Captain Flint) played by Toby Stephens, the beautiful fence, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), the whore with ambitions (Jessica Parker Kennedy with a pretty decent French accent) and the mad-dog working class pirate captain in search of acceptance, Charles Vane (Tom Hopper).

L to R: Vane, Rackham and Anne Bonnie, pirates all!

Some of the characters in Black Sails are real personalities from history, like "Calico" Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz), and the aforementioned Charles Vane, who were both pirates active in the Caribbean at the same time. In addition, fictional characters have been added, including people who show up later in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, amongst them Long John Silver himself (Luke Arnold, who almost convinces us Silver was Australian) and Billy Bones Manderley (Tom Hopper). Just how much Stevenson mined from history himself bears some investigation.

Captain Flint and friends seeking Spanish gold...

I've now watched both series of Black Sails currently extant, and heartily recommend, although be warned, there is plenty of blood and swash in this one, making Pirates of the Caribbean seem tame by comparison. Apparently, filming has begun on series three, although we aren't likely to see that until 2016 at the earliest. How are we going to be able to wait?

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