Black Sails is a new TV series on Starz. It’s set in a fictionalised version of the Golden Age of Piracy in Nassau (New Providence Island). It’s a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and features the origins of most of the characters, including the notorious Long John Silver, and of course, the Treasure itself.
The series opens up with Captain Flint and his crew attacking a ship, searching for the schedule of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima, which supposedly carries millions of dollars in gold. The cook on the ship knows what the pirates want and takes the page with the details from the captain’s log and hides in the kitchen, but before he can close the door and escape the mayhem outside, a shady looking sailor, John Silver, sneaks in and closes the door behind him. One thing leads to another and when the fighting ends and the pirates break into the kitchen, they find only Silver there, with the missing page safely tucked into his pocket and the other man dead on the floor. He convinces the pirates of his identity as the cook and joins their crew, though it quickly becomes apparent to them that he has the information they need.
On land, in Nassau, the series deals with the tension between Eleanor Guthrie and the Pirates that sell their illicit goods through her. Her father’s contact and family business allows him to take the Pirates’ stolen goods and transport and sell them to reputable businessmen, becoming their fence, and Eleanor is the spokesperson and central agent for the business endeavour, handling the day to day operations and because of it, she has almost unparalleled power in the island, deciding who sails and who sells, her word and favour being almost necessary for pirates if they want to earn.
The hunt for the Urca de Lima and the political, economic and of course personal matters of Flint and his crew, the pirates of Nassau, the Guthries and even the prostitutes in the island all drive the plot forward, keeping you hooked from the first to the eighth and final episode of this short season. By the end, you’ll be angry the Second season is still a ways off.
Period dramas depend on a few things to work, such as authenticity when it comes to locations, wardrobe and language and the acting of course. On authenticity, the series oozes with Pirate charm, but it doesn’t shy away from showing you their dark side, and while a few had their code of honour and conduct, most of them were violent criminals more concerned with pleasure than being decent human beings. Locations are fantastic and having recently played Assassin’s Creed IV I couldn’t help but grin every time I saw something on Nassau and thought, “I ran through there!” The maritime sections are sometimes the highlight of the episode, with naval battles being extremely well executed.
As for the acting, the entire cast does a tremendous job. Luke Arnold’s John Silver is sneaky and sleazy and shady, and while he isn’t entirely likeable, you can’t help but laugh every time he manages to escape death and come out with the upper hand. Toby Stephens is fantastic as Captain Flint, intense and secretive; you can see the potential of violence, the murderous intent, in his eyes. Billy Bones (Tom Hopper), is the good likeable honest man in the crew, forced to carry the weight of Flint’s secrets; the same as Mark Ryan’s Mr. Gates, Flint’s long-time friend and quartermaster.
While the men are certainly good performers, it’s the ladies that attracted my attention, and not because of the abundant nudity (this is Starz after all, the network that brought us Spartacus), but with their performances. Hannah New is the dark, authentic and badass version of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Elizabeth Swan, a woman of means, in charge of all the business, who knows what she wants and is willing to do what it takes to achieve it, while still remaining quite human. Jessica Parker Kennedy plays a prostitute named Max, who goes through some of the worst experiences of all the characters in the season, but manages to land on her feet despite it all. I’d previously seen Kennedy in The Secret Circle as an Emo witch, so her performance was one of the most surprising in the series. Lastly, there’s Clara Paget as Anne Bonny, the most badass female character in the entire show. She’s rude, crude and dangerous and she doesn’t take anything she doesn’t want to. Hers is the character that remains silent for long in the seasons, but when she finally acts, her actions leave you wide-eyed, staring at the screen, saying “Wow!”
This is a terrific series and it’s a joy that it’ll have a second season, because even if some of the characters are meant to be in Treasure Island and their fates are sealed, I’m hooked on the rest of them, their stories and fortunes, and I can’t wait to see where their futures (and writers) lead them.
The Mental Attic Score: Worth Owning. If a DVD/Bluray comes out, buy it, it’s worth every Penny or Doubloon or Peso you spend.
This is the highest score a Series/Film can get on The Mental Attic.