NBC’s new pirate drama Crossbones is being billed as the story of Blackbeard. But I’m seeing a lot more here, and hoping for a really provocative drama. Edward “Blackbeard” Teach is the most famous name in pirating, and has been since 1717, when he terrorized the east coast of America, becoming the most notorious man in the New World. He was bigger than life, and his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was bigger than many of the navy ships sent to hunt him down.
And then there’s John Malkovich. Malkovich is famous for his quirky roles: from the heavily-costumed Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons to the unstable Marvin Boggs in Red. But he’s known for his elegance as well. Why is this guy playing the notoriously brutal Blackbeard?
The answer lies in the source material. This series is based on Colin Wooodard’s non-fiction pirate book, The Republic of Pirates, a work that suggests that the pirates of the Golden Age – men like Henry Avery, Charles Vane, and Blackbeard himself, were not the savage outlaws we imagine them to be.
Woodard claims that the pirates were freedom fighters, and did indeed have a nation of their own. This pirate nation was built on the principle that all men were created equal; a notion that was seriously ahead of its time. It’s been stated that the “propaganda” about the evil nature of pirates was put out by “the establishment,” rich men who were horrified by the idea that working class people might (gasp!) demand rights.
What if a democratic nation had started in the New World 60 years before the United States? What if it had been founded by pirates? That’s part of the intriguing story that Crossbones: The Legend of Blackbeard offers us. I’m excited. In fact, the same theory inspired my own fiction series, The Pirate Empire.
So we may get to see that the pirates are trying to build a country. And in the meantime, Blackbeard is chasing a “longitudinal chronometer.”
What on earth is that? A real device that permitted navigators to tell precisely where on earth they were. The actual object was invented in 1767, and looked like a large pocket watch, but it revolutionized navigation at sea. I’ll bet that the object in the series looks nothing like the historical object. But the important thing is the quest.
Who has the chronometer? What will Blackbeard do to get it? This is the kind of exciting, immediate story that can keep a plot moving.
In a recent interview with Yahoo, Malkovich said that he took the part because he liked the way the characters interacted. “Neil (Cross, Crossbones writer and executive producer) is a very clever writer. He’s very clever about doing interaction and behavior. Because there are quite a few big, or large-ish, characters in this, it’s a nice kind of ensemble to balance off of. Neil is very good at characterization.”
That’s a major accomplishment with over-the-top characters like Blackbeard in the mix. Can they pull it off? I’m looking forward to some chases, some intrigue, and a lot of colorful characters. In short, I’m betting yes.
Crossbones: The Legend of Blackbeard will air on NBC. It premieres on Friday, May 30th at 10 pm EST. Our very own Robert Bernstein did predict that 2014 would be the year of the pirate, didn’t he? With Black Sails and now Crossbones thrown into the mix, he very well might’ve been right.