Booty Calls of the Caribbean

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You Don’t Have to Be a Young Male to Enjoy Brutality, Raunch in Pirate Treasure-Hunt Series ‘Black Sails’, Nancy Dewolf Smith writes in this review for The Wall Street Journal.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that at the dawn of the 21st century audiences are still devouring entertainments on the same subjects that thrilled the Victorians, including vampires, Vikings, medieval warriors and pirates. The most recent entry in the latter category is the Starz series “Black Sails,” which, amid the stabbings and dastardly intrigue, is awash with sex and Anglo-Saxon vulgarisms. The Victorians would be flipping. Today’s 13-year-old boy will be in heaven. That said, who isn’t at least vaguely interested in a treasure hunt?

Set in the years before “Treasure Island,” the series features some of the fictional characters made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson, plus a handful based on historical pirates who operated out of the Bahamas and the Caribbean in the first decades of the 18th century. It revolves around the search for a Spanish galleon carrying a cargo worth millions, if the pirates can only figure out where she is.

Without giving anything away, it is safe to say that Capt. Flint ( Toby Stephens ), a cultured but violently obsessed man, has captured an English ship and its log book, which contains clues for locating the Spanish treasure ship. But the most important page in the log has been stolen and hidden by the wily John Silver ( Luke Arnold ), a sailor who recently joined Flint’s pirate crew. Compounding Flint’s problems is the threat that his crew will elect a new captain, although his quartermaster, Gates ( Mark Ryan ), is trying to protect his boss.

There’s trouble on shore in the Bahamas at the pirate hangout in New Providence too. Some of it involves members of the Guthrie family, who act as fences for the pirates, selling their plunder—whale oil and other commodities—to planters from the American colonies. The fetching and doughty blonde Eleanor Guthrie ( Hannah New ) is willing to help Flint for a price. Less accommodating is the man who once loved her, the pirate captain Charles Vane ( Zach McGowan ). With his slicked-back hair and slitty eyes, he looks like a shark. Being human, he is more evil than any hammerhead.

The main plot will be the hunt for the Spanish ship and its riches, and the machinations, alliances and various acts of violence that the search involves. It all unfolds against the broader background of a dying era. What Capt. Flint already sees, even if others do not, is that the British government is preparing to wipe out the Caribbean and mid-Atlantic pirate trade. He knows that the only people to escape the noose will be the few who are rich enough to buy a respectable life or some other form of protection.

“Black Sails,” which was created by Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine, is said to be an authentic take on the era. This is not a show with hokey parrots on shoulders or yo-ho-ho-ing about bottles of rum. While many of the pirates decorate themselves, none looks as campy as Johnny Depp did. The dirt, the sweat, the squalor and the danger of living among thieves in a world of criminals, they all seem grittily real.

The salty language may be authentic too, although when Ms. New’s blond beauty drops f-bombs—like Sharon Stone’s character in “Casino,” only clad in a bodice—it sounds not tough but ridiculous. Otherwise, “Black Sails” proves that some olde English words have not yet lost their shock value.

Wenches are everywhere. So are bare breasts, along with full-frontal nudity and lesbian lovemaking. One of the wenches is Anne Bonny ( Clara Paget ), an assassin. She also proves justly famous for another attribute in a scene where she and a swarm of prostitutes initiate John Silver into the pirate profession. Several of the women in the series use their wiles and wits to amass considerable power, although this cannot always protect them from rapists.

What does it all add up to? “Black Sails” aims for respectability as a tale of striving in an era when a man had to grab his destiny any way he could, including the robbing and killing of the better-off. Capt. Flint has the education and rhetorical skills (and English accent) to make this endeavor sound almost glorious. “I’m not just going to make you rich,” he promises his crew. “I’m going to make you the princes of the New World.”

In the end, though, it is difficult to give a hoot about such brutal people, which is why “Black Sails” may succeed or fail on the strength of its appeal as a treasure tale with soft-porn slasher features. But the show is not without some memorable lines, though some of the best ones are unprintable. Thus this egalitarian warning from their ship’s accountant as a scrum of pirates tries to rush ashore after being long at sea. “I understand everyone wants to get [sex],” he admonishes in a fruity accent. “But we disembark by seniority.”

For the original report go to http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304428004579350972514305550?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304428004579350972514305550.html

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