It looks like pirates are officially back. After the post-Pirates of the Caribbean lull, that most roguishly revered yet often historically inaccurately portrayed sector of sea dwellers always seems to capture the imagination of the general public. So with television series and online streaming taking up more and more of the market share, it should be no surprise that we now have Black Sails.
Black Sails appears to be a quasi-Treasure Island prequel (for reasons that become obvious very early on), following Captain Flint as he must attempt to avoid his crew verging on mutiny, rough seas, and his obsession with recovering the lost treasure of a mysterious Spanish galleon.
Black Sails is an intriguing look at piracy on the high seas, with a much bigger focus on character development than you would expect from this sort of series. Clearly drawing from the work of previous successful television properties of recent years, this shifts focus around the crew and fleshes out the individuals for much of the first four episodes, which is both intriguing and frustrating. Much time is devoted to the politics of the ship, and the various conflicts between the two growing factions, in the surprisingly democratic crew.
However, while it may seem as though nothing is happening, the audience are merely being given all the emotional impetus necessary to be deeply invested in the outcome of the big set pieces in the later episodes. It’s a risky strategy, but I think Black Sails just about walks the tightrope, and avoids the plank.
Certainly a major reason viewers will have stuck around as the show builds up the characters is the acting performances. Stephens is excellent as Flint, bringing a sense of likability and charm to a pirate who by all rights should be the villain of the piece. Equally, New is excellent as Eleanor Guthrie, who at points is more than a match for her male counterparts, which provides a refreshing change of pace in what could have been an overly testosterone fuelled cast. Rising star McGowan also deserves some plaudits for his enjoyable turn as Captain Vane; while not a landmark role for him necessarily, I expect big things from him eventually.
For some the words "From producer Michael Bay" will strike nothing but fear, given his exploits in "Bayhem" over much of the past two decades. However, produced and directed are very different terms, and the addition of the sort of money that having a name like Bay on board (pun intended) on a project like Black Sails is only going to be a positive, and it really does show. This is a massively slick production, with a clearly huge budget, but it does well to avoid getting too glitzy, or too Hollywood, still maintaining the sort of gritty life and realities that would have been encountered by the average crew member during the period when piracy was at its peak. It’s a very enjoyable series, although it does feel as though it will need to be a bit more expansive if it’s to progress beyond its already greenlit three seasons.
EXTRAS ★★★ The extras here include a number of "making of" featurettes and behind the scenes segments giving a good idea of the scale of the production. There is nothing groundbreaking, but certainly a decent selection of bonus material.