Black Sails: TV Series Review

“Let me tell you a story about a Spaniard named Vazquez.” Captain Flint (Black Sails Episode I)

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From left to right: Billy Bones (Tom Hopper), Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), Gates (Mark Ryan) & John Silver (Luke Arnold).

Back in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean crashed onto our big screens, making pirates cool again, with Johnny Depp’s wildly popular and quirky Captain Jack Sparrow producing the genre an excitement from audiences everywhere of all ages. To confess, I used to watch The Curse of the Black Pearl twice a day for months since the film was released, much how the blockbuster appealed to me. However through the years, the quality of the sequels lessened and so the popularity of pirates in media waned, as Captain Sparrow hammed up the pirate stereotype and his own iconography until the concept became overused and unexciting, perhaps to a point where maybe all the pirate stories will disappear, sailing off into the horizon like Will Turner on The Flying Dutchman in World’s End.

But in 2014, television network Starz, embarked on its own voyage into the pirate genre and created Black Sails. Not only in hopes to make pirates cool, but scary, smart, cunning and sexy.

Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine (Jericho) with executive producer Michael Bay (though don’t let that association put you off) Black Sails became Starz answer to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Though Starz is not unfamiliar with shows set in time (Outlander & DaVinci’s Demons) Black Sails promises to become the biggest hit the channel has produced.

Much like Game of Thrones, Black Sails is inspired by Louis Robert Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ acting as a prequel to the material. The show features younger portrayals of Captain James Flint, played by Toby Stephens (The Machine, Die Another Day) and John Silver (Not quite ‘Long’ yet) played by Australian actor Luke Arnold. As well as fictitious characters, the writers play around with the narrative and add in some historical accuracy to the mix, like real life pirates, Captain Charles Vane played by Zack McGowan and Anne Bonny, played by Clara Paget. Even judging the beginning of Season 1, you feel the actors know these characters. Stephens proves that Captain Flint is a leading man in this swashbuckling and yet political story, depicted as neither clear hero nor anti-hero to the show. As Flint’s crew on The Walrus threaten to mutiny against him, Flint goes through desperate measures to cement his captaincy, which begins the question and constant theme through the television show, are pirates’ men or monsters?

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Toby Stephens as Captain James Flint

Not only are there many male characters showing great potential and capacity to develop further, the same goes to the strong troupe of its female characters and cast members. Hannah New’s Eleanor Guthrie keeps the men in line on the Island of Nassau and organizes the plunder, where Nassau’s favourite prostitute, Max played by Jessica Parker Kennedy shows that she is far cleverer than any seafaring Captains among her brothel.

Season 1 begins straight away with a promise of war, civilization threatens the business of stolen trade on the island of Nassau, valuing it’s independence from governed rule. The filming locations of Nassau and it’s oceans are authentic and beautiful, with the show’s cinematography enhancing the experience and engaging the reality of the show. The authenticity of the show is apparent again from the portrayal of the pirates, no men with wooden peg legs or speak in pirate speech in this show, these bandits are damaged outcasts, abused by society and they reject to conform to it.

“When I say there’s a war coming, I don’t mean with the Scarborough. I don’t mean with King George or England. Civilization is coming and it means to exterminate us. If we are to survive, we must unite behind our own king…I am your king.” Captain Flint (Black Sails Episode I)

But of course, being a king is harder than it sounds for Captain Flint. With competition from Captain Charles Vane, a former slave who harvests an aggressive attitude yet presents a gentle nature around Miss Eleanor Guthrie, both crews of Vane’s and Flint’s fight over a Spanish kept secret;  five million Spanish dollars’ worth of gold is sailing right into their direction and to their pockets. But which will be willing to fight to the death for it? Unlikely allies are founded and even unlikelier foes are uncovered as betrayal among the characters are strive. It will leave you second guessing each character…but it won’t stop you from loving each one in the course.

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Left: Zack McGowan as Captain Charles Vane. Right: Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie.

Though Season 2 is considered superior, it suggests that it only rises an already high bar Season 1 left off. The violence definitely amps up as a new Captain, Ned Lowe enters Nassau, featuring in a particularly jarring scene with a man’s head being cut off with a small knife (yes, not only Games of Thrones manage beheadings) and sexual tensions rise further as Max and her girls entice the pirates. Meanwhile Captain Flint harbours his own heart ache from his past, with the mysterious Mrs Barlow, played by Louise Barnes, providing enticing flashbacks to his past and explores how a civilized man decided to become an enemy to mankind. Oh and don’t forget England…it’s coming!

From episode I right up to XII, Black Sails relentlessly gives twists around every corner, playing on the viewer’s wits on an emotional level as well as entertainment, much like a Galleon ship sailing across treacherous waters on a stormy night and the viewers’, its crew. It may be TV’s best kept secret, with many people never having heard of this show until now, and it deserves the audience! The stories grow stronger and deeper as the actors and characters are given even more depth, leading on to an explosive S2 finale, offering plenty on-sea and on-land battles, cannon fire, sword slashing and teeth tearing foul play fighting that cannot be missed! A new ship sails back onto the horizon now, a ship that is called Black Sails and it is sailing for a while yet!

Black Sails Season 3 is currently in filming and is expected to air in 2016. Shiver me timbers, exactly!

Written by Rhosyn Roberts

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