I have just finished binge-watching the first two seasons of Black Sails on Netflix. The third season started last week. It is a prequel to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set during the Golden Age of Piracy (1650 to 1730), about twenty years before Treasure Island, it features fictional versions of many real-life pirates such as Charles Vane (see photo below), Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Ned Low, Anne Bonny, and Blackbeard. Vane was notorious for his savagery and violence. It also features several characters from Treasure Island.
Most people who know me know I am fascinated by naval warfare and life at sea between 1600 and 1900 so this is right up my alley. A third season begins this month and two more (four and five) have already been commissioned. I did not enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean much, preferring more realistic movies like Master and Commander which show life as it was in those days. Black Sails is like a little bit of Pirates crossed with a whole lot of Master and Commander.
AND the clothes are fantastic! Leather galore (Cuffs! Pirate boots! Scarves! Belts! Lots of jewellery! Leather trousers! Big Buckles! Long coats! Floppy hats!). The New Romantics/Adam and the Ants look!
Not only that, but it was filmed on set in Cape Town, South Africa! The set is enormous, with two gargantuan water tanks, a beach with tides AND an entire town. Cape Town is a very popular destination for filmmaking and modelling shoots because it is cheap, has the expertise, the weather is reliable and the country is so varied you can find everything from deserts to tropical forests.
The opening score is amazing AND the visuals feature a hurdy-gurdy – something you don’t see very often in popular culture!
- Toby Stephens, the son of Dame Maggie Smith, plays Captain Flint (a character from Treasure Island). He actually looks a lot like his mother and you can see he is a thespian!
- Zach McGowan, who plays Charles Vane, is strangely attractive in a feral, leonine way with a voice that is a deep purr. His Vane is also genuinely hard and frighteningly angry in a way that most tv villains are not. He reminds me of Ron Perlman in Beauty and the Beast (see below)!
My favourite is Toby Schmitz as Jack Rackham. He provides something of a flamboyant comic foil (the pompadour! The snazzy steampunk shades!) to the really serious subject matter but is not as camp as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.
Because this is from Starz, there is sex in all types of constellations (an unusual proportion of the main characters are bisexual – at least five at last count), full-frontal nudity (both male and female) and lots of swearing and graphic, visceral violence, but it is not gratuitous. It was a hard, coarse world and this series really brings that home. Everyone looks greasy, sweaty and smelly and nothing is glamourised. The only quibble I have is that the teeth are way too perfect, but then I am not sure if I would watch an entire series completely populated with missing and green teeth.