Pirates have always been cool
Black Sails is doing for pirates what Spartacus did for Gladiators!
Not that they needed it; pirates have always been cool. Tonight’s feature Black Sails is billed as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, being that it is set some twenty years before the events of the book; but other than containing some of the characters (Flint, Silver, Billy Bones etc.) and is about pirates, that's where the similarity ends. The first season saw Cap’n Flint ruthlessly searching for the Spanish treasure galleon Urca de Lima, costing lives, his reputation and eventually his ship in the process. Season two picks up immediately after these events (necessitating a viewing of that first season to fully understand and appreciate the characters, their arcs and where the story is heading towards) and goes further into Flint’s psyche, his drive for power and the burgeoning relationship between him and (Long-John) Silver. All this is set against the backdrop of the island of Nassau, the pirate stronghold, and it’s quest for independence or ‘war against the world’. Flint (Toby Stephens) is the star of the show, and runs his ship and crew like no other; but unlike the myths that usually surround pirates, the show goes to great pains to show their real life and the hard working, democratic nature aboard ship.
Not content with landing these fictional characters in real events, there are also a plethora of real life pirates in the show; the likes of Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Charles Vane and, introduced in the second season, Ned Low. It is with the introduction of the latter character, a totally ruthless and brutal captain, that the show takes a sharp left turn and becomes all the better for the fictional tales it weaves into the historical events it portrays. It is the skill of the writers that interweave the fiction with the truth, something that is becoming a staple for TV shows nowadays, to create a powerful and engrossing story. Of course, coming from the same studio that brought us the mighty Spartacus, you can expect gratuitous nudity and gore – and you won’t be disappointed. But without identifiable characters or a plot to hang them to the show would fail; and whilst the first season did flounder slightly, the second season starts with a bang and continues on the same footing.
Being wonderfully shot with incredible looking scenery and purpose-built ships there is a great deal of authenticity to the show, the real life characters and events add tremendously towards that; and the use of flashbacks to further fill in the gaps of character motivations, plus the added bonus of blood and boobs makes this a show to be reckoned with. It hits hard. Perhaps the only issue is that of history, or more precisely Treasure Island, in that we ‘know’ where these characters are going to end up and that can, at times, remove some of the jeopardy to the skilfully crafted situations; doesn’t remove the fact that it is still one balls to the wall drama though. Black Sails doesn’t quite have the weight or power of Spartacus (whom it is clearly trying to emulate) but its damn close!
Season 1 and 2 of Black Sails are available free as part of the Amazon Prime package.
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