A writer and blogger based in Melbourne with a passion for good food, drink and entertainment. For more reviews please visit my blog at www.melbournetreats.com
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Published November 23rd 2015
Drink up me hearties
Dead men tell no tales.
We've all seen the clichιs, be it an eye-patch wearing, peg-legged man with bad teeth or a talkative parrot. They obviously didn't count on the Hollywood machine striving for their next big pay-day. With superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, crime-drama and vampires all but run out of ideas, it would seem pirates are making somewhat of a comeback.
Crossbones tells the tale of Edward Teach, better known as the formidable Blackbeard the Pirate. Set in 1729, many years after his supposed death at the hands of the British navy, the story is set in motion by a pirate attack on a British vessel carrying a revolutionary navigation device called The Chronometer. The ship's surgeon, Tom Lowe, (played by Richard Coyle), strives to stop this device falling into the wrong hands by destroying the device and murdering its inventor.
The raiding party takes Lowe prisoner and returns him to their island hideaway of Santa Compana, where he comes face to face with Blackbeard himself, (Oscar nominee John Malkovic), thought to be long dead. Lowe, as we soon find out though, is actually an undercover spy working for the governor of Jamaica (William Jagger played by Julian Sands), who sent him on a secret mission to determine if Blackbeard was, as suspected, still alive and if so assassinate him, bringing his head back to Jamaica as proof.
What follows is a tale of betrayal, deceit and treachery as Lowe finds that not everything is as it seems on the island of Santa Compana, a mix of brigands' paradise and utopian escape. Lowe stays his hand, sparing the life of the island's Commodore after intercepting a meeting with the Spanish and begins to question the intentions of Blackbeard himself (although we don't call him that here) as well as his commander, William Jagger, clouding the very nature of his work.
With a mix of action, drama and love stories, this is actually a very watchable piece of TV work. Sitting somewhere in between Pirates of the Caribbean and Black Sails, Crossbones does invoke the tried and tested pirate mythology relatively well. It's more adult and serious than the Disney money spinner, but slower paced and somewhat less visceral than the R-rated, timber-shivering escapades of the latter, although Crossbones does still have its cut-throat moments (literally).
There are some inspirational performances, Richard Coyle as the lead character does a fantastic job, but you must feel sorry for him as he ends up playing second fiddle to an absolutely perfectly cast John Malkovich, doing his usual best of awe-inspiring actor mixed with equal parts of deranged mad-man; exactly what the character of Blackbeard required. Malkovich moves from suffering the violent and vivid hauntings of a spectre and giving himself acupuncture to his own head to just making constant reminders of how Blackbeard's vicious legend came to be in the first place, uttering memorable quotes such as "not all those unflattering legends about me are untrue!".
The supporting cast do a good job of keeping the story moving along, from Governor William Jagger, deranged with hatred and the need for revenge against Blackbeard, to Blackbeard's right-hand-man and Lieutenant Charlie Rider, constantly distrusting of Tom Lowe, they all play their part.
There is unfortunately a sense that the show is struggling for timing, seemingly intent on setting up a second season that never came. This results in a few unresolved plot elements that end up not making sense and add little to the overall plot. Some slightly choppy editing and some drawn out scenes do raise questions of the show's intended episode number was this a shorter series drawn out too long or did they have to condense a longer running season into a shorter time-frame?
Do not let these small gripes dissuade you from watching, however. If for no other reason than to see Malkovich indulge his full eccentricity, this is definitely worth a watch. As the plot unravels and the treachery and backstabbing begins to take shape, you will find yourself wondering who to trust and who will be caught out.
Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard John Malkovich
Tom Lowe Richard Coyle
William Jagger Julian Sands
Kate Balfour Claire Foy
Tim Fletch Chris Perfetti
James Balfour Peter Stebbings
Selima El Sharad Yasmine Al Massri
Charlie Rider David Hoflin
Nenna Ajanlekoko Tracy Ifeachor
Produced by Parkes and Macdonald Productions in association with Universal Television with Neil Cross, Walter F. Parkes, Laurie Macdonald, Ted Gold and Ciaran Donnelly as executive producers.
Digital release 25th of November
Physical release 9th of December
Thank you to Weekend Notes and Nichole at Icon Film Productions for the opportunity to view the pre-release screener.