Not sure what I was expecting from Black Sails. Perhaps I imagined it would be another TV attempt to beguile my wanton heart with images of young flesh and pretty faces.
Well it certainly isn’t that. It is gritty, bloodthirsty, dirty (apparently real pirates don’t wash a lot) with stunning scenery, and a talented cast.
Although admittedly it still makes my pulse flutter just a tad because it offers enough morsels to whet the appetite of my just as wanton eyes.
Instead of playing to the en-vogue fashion of Ken doll like actors, Black Sails sets its sails for the wilder waters of the viewers, who like their men rough, strong, driven and ever so slightly mad. Bad boys with swords, ladies and gentlemen.
Let’s start with the female lead Eleanor. Sorry Eleanor, the “Fucks” you utter are completely unconvincing. You are a posh schoolgirl version of a wannabe alpha female. Every time she curses she looks and sounds as
if she is saying “Poppycock, daarling”.
One must say it with emphasis. Feel the “Fuck” and speak it from the bottom of your deepest pit of anger. “Fuck You, Ya Bastard”. (No wait, that’s me)
Give it a bit of growl girl. Own it. Be it. Alpha it. Fuck it or one of those handsome pirates. ‘Arrr.’ Side-note: I would make a grand pirate methinks.
The male lead Flint, is caught somewhere between remorse, anger, guilt, and tottering on the brink of madness. Voted the captain most likely to betray you, he is willing to do anything and kill anyone to achieve his goal of the day. Indeed he is leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
The mystery of Flint is linked to Mrs. Barlow through a tragedy in their past. He despises the English with a passion for what they have done. There is a scene in the 7th episode where he confronts Barlow about her plotting and scheming. He rages at her, shouting that he will never ask the English for forgiveness, they need to get down on their knees before him. The emotion in that scene is utter brilliance. Superb acting.
It also gives the viewers an insight into his level of hatred and how far he is willing to go. He wants to gather the unlawful around him and instate them as a people unto themselves, with their own laws, powers and country. To make them equal and no longer the dirt under England’s fingernails.
Side note: Flint is played by actor Toby Stephens who is the son of Dame Maggie Smith who, among many other successful acting endeavours, is known for playing the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey and Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films.
The very prim and proper Mrs Barlow is kept in a cottage on the island of Nassau like a dirty wee secret that everyone knows about. Seems as if she is the type of woman who takes what she wants when she wants it, when she needs it, from whomever she desires it, at that moment in time. Not so very prim at all. The poor vicar isn’t likely to get over their romp in a hurry. Last seen, he was fervently praying to the open heavens for forgiveness for his sins.
One of the more interesting characters is Rackham, a man used to getting through life one con at a time. Always slinking around somewhere in his vicinity is Bonny. The two of them are actually based on real people, Calico John Rackham and Anne Bonny, who lived the lives of pirates in Nassau. I hope some of that history will be revealed in the next season.
Rackham and Bonny the lady pirate are an odd couple, they seem to be connected with an invisible cord. Rackham acts as if he doesn’t care and yet he is willing to protect her at his own peril. Not very piratey at all, they tend to sell you out for a keg of rum and a few pieces of silver. Loyalty is a suspicious quality to exhibit in Nassau, especially when it is exhibited by a wheeler and dealer like Rackham.
The whore Max and the angry lady pirate are one of my favourite story-lines of the season. The secret sisterhood between the two of them. They need not like each other to understand the similarities of their plight or events in their past, an understanding of the inequality of their gender, their vulnerability to abuse because of it, and their lack of power, due to their second rate status.
It is an understanding of pain, betrayal, humiliation and emptiness. One which Eleanor neither shares, at this moment in time, nor comprehends, due to her station in life and upbringing, hence her lack of remorse when the whore is fed to the wolves for entertainment.
Sorry just doesn’t cut it when you choose riches and wealth above making your lover into the equivalent of a McDonalds’ Drive Thru for horny pirates. Eleanor is so eager to be one of the men that she might as well have her pseudo dick serviced at the drive thru along with the rest of them. Being a strong woman doesn’t mean you have to sell out your gender.
Also based on a real pirate and historical figure is Captain Vane, who is the epitome of male strength and bad boy look. Rocking the savage hair and with a voice like a grumpy bear, he is a ticking time bomb. Erratic and controlled at the same time. Above all he wants power, position and to be both respected and feared. The only time he reveals a tidbit of his true self is when he battles with Eleanor. That is when we see the emotional side he keeps hidden from all. To show love is to show weakness.
The unknown variable of the show is John Silver. Smart as a whip with the propensity to be at the epicentre of each and every catastrophe. He also has the singular most determined sense of survival of self. At the end of this season he has gone from being the hunted to the wanted and now he is the ally, albeit Flint’s ally, which could turn out to be a mistake of disastrous proportions.
Even though the pirates are men outlawed by state and country they have their own set of rules and standards. In their own society of criminals, refugees and misfits, they choose as a group. They consider each man equal and accept each voice has an opinion. Pirate politics 101.
Black Sails is inspired by the fictional tale of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island tells the story of a treasure buried by Flint and sought by Silver. The one legged, parrot toting Silver, I might add. In Black Sails we have a fascinating mixture of history, fictional characters coming alive, and the vivid imagination of the scriptwriters. A very successful portrayal of what we think it would have been like and the reality of it brought to screen.
I wonder what the second season will have in store for us? Will Flint kill half his crew to keep the treasure, as in the myth of Treasure Island? How will he regain control of his mutinous crew? (Probably by the use of sheer brass balls). What kind of dirty secrets is Silver hiding and just who exactly is he hiding from? Will the vicar ever be forgiven his sins or is this the start of a downward spiral path towards hell? Can’t wait to find out where the oceans take them next. ‘Arrr.’
Free downloads of the above mentioned story by Robert L. Stevenson:
Download to read Treasure Island by Robert L. Stevenson at the Internet Archives.
Download to listen to Treasure Island by Robert L. Stevenson at Librivox.
Download to read Treasure Island by Robert L. Stevenson at Feedbooks.