If summer calls for sans souci, seaside days of sun and sticky sand, then summer nights, especially Fridays, demand a touch of gold bling and a white linen blouse to accentuate that tan, plus just enough coconut rum to help lull you to sleep by the sound of lapping waves … but watch your back, and your neck. Blackbeard’s in town for the summer and not since Jaws has the beach looked more inviting, relaxing … and deadly.
In a sea of fictionalized Blackbeards, the latest incarnation cavorts freely outside the traditional, Pyrate King design book. Clean-shaven (gone is his namesake beard tied with multiple bows of red and gunpowder fuses), bald and casually styled in island linens and sandals, casting off his trademark black velvet frock coats and leather bucket-top boots, NBC’s Blackbeard appears more Gob Bluth than Rob Zombie. A mesmerizing figure to start, John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire, Being John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons, The Portrait of a Lady) portrays the 18thC. pirate with a soothing deadliness that lures the viewer into a unsuspecting trance: his escalating diatribes seep forth with an almost musical, rhythmic, Eminem-cadence, like an unsuspecting frog in a warm pot of slowly boiling water. Before you, or the frog, realize what’s occurred, your kidney has been cut out; but Blackbeard has left you a lovely shrub glass of port to ease your dying moments.
Given to way too many police melodrama and hospital backdrops, broadcast television has bravely left the shore of predictability and NBC has joined the ranks of writers and producers currently exploring that century chock full of not just high theater, but some damn fine wardrobes. Turn, Sleepy Hollow, Salem (although 17thC.) and now Crossbones have all not only done their homework, rewarding writers and creators whom clearly have studied their Colonial American history, but have skillfully engaged a 21stC. audience barely capable of understanding the difference between Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Button. This engagement may be partially due to a sagacity on the part of casting agents.
Be they Founding Fathers like George Washington, philosophers like René Descartes or medieval authors like Geoffrey Chaucer, varying forms of media have forever presented us with whiskered old men; when, in fact, most of them were in the ascent and apex of their careers about the same time as many of us today: 20s-40s. FOX’s reiteration of Sleepy Hollow casts the beauteous, theatre-trained Englishman Tom Mison as the heretofore, nebbish Ichabod Crane; AMC’s Turn gives us the chiseled Ian Kahn as George Washington and now NBC’s Blackbeard is a far more contemporary, if not quite Chris Hemsworth, version than any who have come before him. Whilst the historical-figures are given to us, visually, as men with whom we can identify by today’s standards, there is no mistaking the sartorial and language cues of the period. The frock coats and cloaks are as billowy and majestic as the dialogue. Contractions, abbreviations and slang be damned, the King’s English is securely, blessedly in place here.
Just as Bauhaus furniture was a severe reaction to Victorian and Edwardian flourish, perchance, conversely, this 21stC. trend toward the 18thC. may very well be a flouncy reaction to today’s nonchalant, terribly casual yet, simultaneously, hyper-agitated, get-it-by-yesterday, 140-character, “WhereUB?” schlubby kind of modern lifestyle. Casual historians and professional researchers alike of the Colonial period already know what TV audiences are just now learning: the 18thC. is far more hip than you thought and a dash of formality, in language and dress, is desperately craved.
Crossbones writer Neil Cross (Luther, MI-5, Doctor Who) knows both sleek, crime drama and dazzling, costumed fantasy. His treatment of the notorious Blackbeard, living an alternate, 1729 existence on the secret isle of Santa Compana, wherein he was never slain in 1718 by Lt. Robert Maynard and the British Royal Navy, is a thoughtfully imagined life of a temporarily land-stalled pirate, seeking to steal a proprietary technology, a chronometer, that will have him back on the Spanish Main and on top of the world by summer’s end.
“I thought it was a excellent piece of writing,” said Malkovich of The Devil’s Dominion, episode 1. So taken with it, he agreed to the role of Edward Teach, a.k.a. historically as Blackbeard or Thatch, upon finishing the script, he said in a Reuters interview.
As with many a film and theatre fixture gracing the small-screen as of late, Malkovich commands your attention. As author Jennifer Susannah Devore wrote of Tom Mison in a review of FOX’s Sleepy Hollow, “Mison brings a decidedly non-telly flip-of-the-cape to primetime viewing.; so can it also be said of Malkovich in Crossbones.
Pleasingly, Crossbones also employs the considerable talents of Englishman Richard Coyle (Covert Affairs, Coupling, The Whistleblowers) as Dr. Thomas Lowe, posing as ship’s surgeon, serving as foil and nemesis of Blackbeard. “Ohhh, Geoffrey!”
If you find your summer lacking the proper amount of tropical sun, salty nights, Beach Bum Rum, silk-embroidered frock coats and Shakespearean-level dramaturgy, Friday nights on NBC, in a clandestine cove somewhere in the Caribbean is just the place to pile your purloined silver platter high with the spoils of privateering, pirateering and stagecraft that far excels the likes of standard, broadcast production.
Crossbones airs Fridays at 10/9c p.m. on NBC.
- Aside: should you require more than one night a week of island dreamin’? Author Jennifer Susannah Devore’s Savannah of Williamsburg: The Trials of Blackbeard and His Pirates, Virginia 1718 is a quasi-realistic account of what really happened in the shoals off North Carolina’s Outer Banks during the autumn of 1718. To boot, in honour of Crossbones, her book (second in the Savannah of Williamsburg Series) shall be free every Friday this summer … and always free via the Kindle Lenders Library!
… and in case ye be needin’ a pirate chanty fer those summer nights …
“Me Cup Is Broke!”
A pirate chanty from Savannah of Williamsburg: The Trials of Blackbeard and His Pirates, Virginia 1718
lyrics by Jennifer Susannah Devore
Blow me sails full! Blow on! Blow on!
Pour me ale full! Flow on! Flow on!
Me treasure be waitin’, me lady tried ‘scapin’,
Me gold chest it swells, soon we’ll all go to Hell!
Ye Caribbean Sea so hot it drains me wit!
DREAD! Me cup is broke and who will fix it?!
#Crossbones #pirates #summer