Today I would like to review another TV series I enjoyed immensely, not only because it deals with a topic I've always liked: pirates. The show is a four-season series called Black Sails, which appeared on Starz Network between 2014 and 2017.
So Much More Than Just Ahoy Matey and Shiver Me Timbers
Generally pirate movies tend to have way too many similarities. If you have seen one, you've seen them all. Usually they feature treasure hunts and sea battles, parrots and eye-patches, alliances and betrayals, mutinies and walking the plank. Of course, if that is what you're looking for, all the better, and moving from the typical to the stereotypical may be more than welcome in this genre. This is why for me the ever repetitive pirate lore is nothing I'd complain about. It reminds me of my favorite childhood pirate experiences, such as the Monkey Island games and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And that is what I was hoping for when I first looked into Black Sails... only to find all of this, and then a whole lot more!
The Perfect Blend of History and Fiction
At first this series seemed to be another great example of swashbuckling tale of scurvy scum making their way across the seven seas to find golden treasures, and everything else pertaining to that. But right in the first episode I noticed something curious: one of the characters' name was John Silver. Could it be the same Long John Silver from Treasure Island, the fictional classic pirate novel by Robert Louis Stevenson? Indeed! But since in this show he starts out relatively young and inexperienced, it soon becomes clear that the entire series is supposed to be a prequel to the novel. This makes it quite interesting already, but that's just the start.
A Line-up of the Most Famous Historical Pirates
For those who are familiar with the names and stories of actual pirates in history, Black Sails has a lot to offer. It features such prominent characters as Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Charles Vane, and Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard). Granted, most of these fictionalized pirates differ greatly from what we know about them in actual life, but since their lives span such a length of time that it would have been unlikely for all of them meet anyway, it's perfectly sufficient to get to know them as characters in this series. As such, their appearance in the show is also not just a nominal homage to actual pirates, but they are (mostly) the main characters around whom the entire story revolves.
Set on New Providence Island at the Golden Age of Piracy
The first season of Black Sails starts out at the beginning of the 18th century on Fort Nassau, New Providence Island, on the Bahamas. For those who have read a little bit about the historical background of Caribbean pirates in their hay-day, this should ring a bell. During the first two decades of the 18th century, Fort Nassau was a stronghold of Pirates, sometimes even referred to as a Pirate Republic. The historical background has to do with privateers who eventually turned full fledged pirates by also attacking ships of the British crown, who had granted them their privateer's license in the first place.
What I've always found particularly interesting about New Providence Island, is that historically speaking this loosely gathered disorganization of outlaws became the precursor of another republic that declared its independence from Britain only half a century later: the United States. And Black Sails doesn't make any attempts to steer clear of this, as during the later seasons some of those colonies on the mainland are visited, and examined in various lights.
A Modern Approach to Piracy
Another reason I liked Black Sails was its modern way of looking at the underlying problems of 18th century society that gave rise to piracy. This is illustrated very clearly in its discussion of the definition of civilization at the time, along with such concepts as the law, loyalty to the crown, social stratification, as well as the use of brute force on all sides. Along with all this, the generous use of diverse female characters, shedding light on the gender relations of the time, as well as slavery and its effects on the individual and society as a whole, make this entire series highly worth watching.
So if you're looking for a show making use of all the typical pirate lore we all know, while combining it with a deep examination of historical concepts (indicating how they reach into today's world), I can recommend you check out Black Sails. Here's a trailer: