Black Sails, History

Be sure to catch History Channel's Black Sails in August matey.

Black Sails

Once upon a time on a channel not far from your fingertips, there came a fleet of entertainment like no other.

As the winds blew in Black Sails, premiering Tuesday 18 August on HISTORY, DStv channel 186, we knew for sure that viewing would never be the same again.

This August, ladies and gentlemen, comes a tale of 1715, the Golden Age of Piracy. The lawless New Providence Island is free from the former British Colony and the new democracy is do or die. Black Sails tells the tale of Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens, his crew and their quest for payment and survival.

With the series being shot in Cape Town with several South African actors among the cast, we had a quick chat with three faces you will be seeing on the screens shortly.

Sean Cameron Michael (as Richard Guthrie), Louise Barnes (as Miranda Barlow) and Nick Boraine (who we’ll meet in Season 3) took the time to tell us a little about their experience: 

“Best experience of my life!” said Louise on how she felt to be a part of it all. “Top class production, amazing cast members, awesome script, it was incredible.”

Sean said: “I feel so spoilt to work on Black Sails because everybody – whether costume or make-up or acting – was at the top of their game. As a South African getting to work on a production like that – was amazing!”

“Every two episodes, we got to work with a different director: Neil Marshall was fun, Alik Sakharov is amazing! As South Africans getting to work with such amazing directors – he’s worked on Game of Thrones, The Americans, Boardwalk Empire – that’s the calibre.

“The international cast was incredible. They came in and they really respected everything that South Africans were doing,” said Louise, “they didn’t come in with a huge attitude and I think that one of the most remarkable things about the production was that there was no ego. There was a real sense that they respected everything we had to offer – professionally and creatively - and they came in willing to make us part of it all. It’s an incredibly happy set – which I think is very rare.”

“It’s the real deal,” said Sean, “everything you see is made specifically made for that period and class.”

“The writers and producers of the show really listened to what fans wanted and tried their best to throw it all in!” said Nick. “What’s amazing about the writers, John Steinberg and Rob Levine, is that they really did their research and it’s such an interesting period in history.”

“1715 was a crucial moment in world politics, the beginning of what it meant to be equal,” said Nick, “it was a brutal form of democracy but a really extraordinary shift in a human dynamic because for the first time they said: whoever can lead us the best gets the captaincy – all that matters is your contribution to winning the prize.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the start of Black Sails, 18 August on HISTORY, DStv 186. 

Check out our interview with Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who plays Mr Scott! 



5 Pirate mysteries debunked

The critically and commercially acclaimed swashbuckling pirate adventure series Black Sails is set to take South African television by storm when it premieres on HISTORY (DStv channel 186) on Tuesday 18 August at 21.20. A prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s world-famous novel, Treasure Island, Black Sails - shot on location in Cape Town - is a gritty, adult drama set in the brutal and cut-throat golden age of 18th century piracy. A story combining real life historical figures, events and locations with fictional pirate legends, the gritty, raw and violent eight-part series from Hollywood executive producer, Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon) stars Toby Stephens, Luke Arnold, Jessica Parker Kennedy and Hakeem Kae-Kazim, as well as a veritable who's who of South African acting talent including Sean Cameron Michael and Louise Barnes.

Over the centuries a lot of myths around pirates have become popular, making it hard to untangle pirate fact from piratical fiction. This is where Black Sails comes into its own, giving us a view of early 18th century pirate life which is as gritty as it is realistic. Pirate expert Angus Konstam does some pirate myth-busting, stripping away the fiction to reveal just how real pirates operated in the early 18th century. 

So, five pirate myths debunked:

1. Buried  Treasure:  Pirates didn't bury treasure. Instead their plunder was kept on board the ship, before being divided up among the crew. The notion of buried treasure comes from Treasure Island where it was a useful plot device. Black Sails is based twenty years before the events of Stevenson’s classic novel. So too was a pirate treasure map, where "X" marked the spot. The only pirate known to bury anything was Captain Kidd, but that was outside New York, to prevent his plunder being seized by the city's governor. 

2. Pirate Speak: Today, we all expect pirates to talk in a rich West Country accent. 19 September is even International Talk like a Pirate Day, where people are encouraged to say "Avast me hearties", or "Arrrr matey". In fact, real pirates talked in whatever normal accent they happened to have. Some came from London, some from Bristol, some were Scottish, some were French - there was no recognisable pirate tongue. What we see as "pirate speak" all stems from Dorset-born actor Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in Walt Disney's Treasure Island (1950).

3. Eyepatches and Peg Legs: Anyone dressing up as a pirate today would probably consider putting on an eyepatch, or pretend to have a peg leg or a hook for a hand. Again, this "look" has its roots in fiction - Long John Silver had a wooden leg in Treasure Island, while Captain Hook had a hook for a hand in Peter Pan. This though, at least had some basis in fact, as sailors could lose eyes or limbs in battle, or in a shipboard accident. While a pirate with a peg leg couldn't climb the rigging, he could at least act as the ship's cook, hence the one-legged cook Randall in Black Sails (played by Lawrence Joffe)

4. Walking the Plank: Pirates never made their victims walk the plank. That was the invention of J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan (1904). Real pirates of the Black Sails era wouldn't bother. It was much easier to stab or shoot their victim and throw him over the side.

5. Hoist the Jolly Roger!: One of the few aspects of pirate life that hasn't altered its potency over the centuries is the use of the pirate flag - the "Jolly Roger". The term comes from the French jolie rouge, a reference to the red flag used by privateers in the 17th century. This developed into the black flag we know today, decorated with motifs designed to intimidate potential victims. Skeletons, skulls and weapons all served as a warning of what might happen if a victim refused to surrender.