Black Sails is an American television series of the drama genre created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine for the cable channel Starz, which aired from January 25, 2014 to April 2, 2017 for a total of four seasons. The show follows the incredible adventures among the seas of the pirate-flagged ship Walrus. A ship that, under the orders of Captain James Flint, represents the last bastion of freedom and independence.
The series, not surprisingly, is set in 1715, a year remembered as the golden age of piracy and as a momentous moment for maritime raids against commercial vessels. We are in Nasau, in the archipelago of the Bahamas, and the screenwriters have set the events twenty years earlier than those narrated in the novel "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson, thus being a prequel.
Black Sails: plot and all seasons
Black Sails' all grog and pirate plot takes us aboard the Walrus, telling the story of her colorful crew as they search for the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima, carrying a rich booty of gold from the West Indies fleet. The Walrus is captained by James Flint, a ruthless and skillful strategist willing to do anything to assert his supremacy on the seas and get as rich as possible along with his crew, consisting of boatswain Billy Bones and the ship's cook John Silver. The boat will then be joined by the Ranger, whose fearsome crew includes Captain Charles Vane, the cunning quartermaster Jack Rackham and the ruthless Anne Bonny.
Leaving together from the island of New Providence, which the pirates have in fact transformed into their capital, both captains will have to rely on the aforementioned John Silver, the only one who knows the entire route that the Spanish ship is following. The plot gravitates right around John Silver, a very bright boy who is forced from birth to live by expedients, and who somehow finds himself as a cook on Captain Flint's ship, where he will become the classic pirate with a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder.
The first season of Black Sails, from which all the pirate adventures began, premiered on the cable channel Starz from January 25 to March 15, 2014. Here in Italy, it aired on the satellite channel AXN from September 22 until October 27 of the same year, and then was broadcast free-to-air on Rai 4 from November 30, 2015 to January 18, 2016. In all, the first season is composed of 8 episodes, which are numbered as if they were the chapters of a book, using Roman numerals. Therefore, the story will start from episode I, until it reaches number VIII. At the end of the first season, Mark Ryan will leave the principal cast, which we will see in detail a little later.
The second season of the show Starz aired on the U.S. cable television channel the following year, from January 24 to March 28, 2015. In Italy it was instead broadcast in first view on the satellite channel AXN visible on the Sky platform, from February 2 to March 30, 2015. Free-to-air was then broadcast on Rai 4 from March 9 to April 7, 2016. This season is structured in 10 episodes, two more than the first one, which follow the same numbering. It is then the episodes IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII and XVIII. Rupert Henry-Jones joins the cast just from this season.
Going to the third season, in the U.S. always aired on the screens of the Starz channel from January 23 to March 26, 2016, to land in Italy in first vison on the satellite channel AXN from January 26 to March 29, 2016. As of September 12, 2017 it is broadcast free-to-air on Cine Sony, a new channel among those available with digital terrestrial. The third season also consists of 10 episodes, which consequently bring the numbering up to XXVIII, and marks the abandonment of the cast by Zach McGowan, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Louise Barnes. To enrich it, however, there are the new entries Luke Roberts and Ray Stevenson.
The fourth and final season of Black Sails aired on the U.S. cable channel Starz from January 29 to April 2, 2017, while on the Boot was broadcast in first view on the satellite channel Sky Atlantic from September 4 until October 9, 2017. In total it has 10 episodes: XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII and XXXVIII. The conclusion is literally with a bang: starting from this season, David Wilmot and Harriet Walter join the main cast, while Rupert Penry-Jones reappears as a guest star.
Black Sails: the cast and characters
In the course of four seasons, Black Sails has been able to count on the interpretations of many good actors, not only among the main characters. Starting with Luke Arnold, who lends his face and talent to Long John Silver. He is a fictional character and is a lame pirate with a wooden leg. Many know him for his role as a cook aboard Captain Flint's ship, and for being a particularly shrewd guy. After entering the world of pirates by pure chance, he immediately establishes a conflictual relationship with the captain, despite the fact that events very often force them to work together against their will. James Flint is played instead by Toby Stephens, recently seen in the Netflix TV series Lost in Space. He is presented as a complex man, whose interiority is practically an inscrutable abyss.
Eleanor Guthrie is instead Hannah New, the daughter of a rich black merchant from the Bahamas who is also one of the main suppliers for pirate ships. The girl is known for her ambition and sharp intelligence, and dreams of one day being independent. In the course of the narrative, she will make a pact with Captain Flint, to realize her dream of freedom.
Actress Jessica Parker Kennedy then brings to the small screen Max, who is a prostitute as seductive as she is able to manipulate people to further her own ends. She will find in Eleanor many affinities, but soon their different aspirations will end up making them clash, and their relationship will undergo a profound transformation. The woman will ally herself with the new English governor against the pirates.
Tom Hopper is William "Billy Bones" Manderly, the boatswain's mate of the ship Walrus and at the same time the most respected member of the crew. We are dealing with a true leader, endowed with charisma, courage and intelligence, as well as a great sense of loyalty to his companions. Despite this, he fears Flint and does not trust him. We then have Toby Shmitz to play the role of Jack Rackham, a pirate captain who operated in the Bahamas, and who is part of the crew of the Ranger ship.
He is a very arrogant and cultured man, and who never misses an opportunity to flaunt it. On the other hand, his skills as a fighter and strategist are not up to those of his "colleagues". To close the main cast we find Clara Paget, who in the show is Anne Bonny, a very beautiful and cold-blooded female pirate, always armed with her two faithful daggers and companion of Jack Rackham.
Black Sails: between true history and legends
As already mentioned, Black Sails is a sort of antecedent, set about 20 years earlier, to the events told in Stevenson's Treasure Island. From the work, borrows some characters, starting with Captain Flint. In the book he is not an active character, and we know about him only thanks to the stories of his former pirate companions, who describe him as an unscrupulous pirate who has hidden an incredible treasure, the result of years of raids, on a deserted island. The only one who knows the location of his riches is William "Billy" Bones, who has been entrusted with the treasure map by Flint himself.
In the novel, however, the map somehow ends up in the hands of Jim Hawkins, the real protagonist of the book, a 14-year-old boy who loves the sea and pirate adventures. In Treasure Island, the villain is Long John Silver, a fearsome pirate who was Captain Flint's treasurer, now willing to do anything to get his hands on the treasure.
As for the other characters, they come directly from the historical reference period of the TV series. Charles Vane, for example, was a real pirate known for his ferocity, active between 1716 and 1719 aboard the ship Ranger, with which he gave life to a brief reign of terror on the Caribbean Sea. Jack Rackham, better known as Calico Jack, is remembered mainly for having hydrated the flag of the Jolly Roger and for having had two women in his crew: Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who later became his mistress. Captain Benjamin Hornigold is also inspired by a real-life figure, none other than the second-in-command of the pirate Blackbeard.