Review: The Lost Pirate Kingdom
Six part ‘docudrama’ on Netflix with recreations of the 1714-18 era of Caribbean piracy by greasy-looking but still attractive actors and speckled with expert historical opinion.
This six part mini-series recreates stories of a few of the last of the Caribbean pirates and intersperses them with historical expert opinion. The focus is on Benjamin Hornigold, Sam Bellamy, Henry Jennings, and Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Thatch, with Anne Bonny showing up to shag a few of them. Each of the pirates is given certain traits to present them as characters in a chronological story, rather than the complex individuals they really were. Hornigold is tough but fair and loyal to the English crown; Bellamy is a valiant ‘Robin Hood’ doing it all for love; Jennings is traitorous, cruel and evil (you can tell because he says ‘fuck’ a lot); Thatch is loyal too before he turns into a syphilitic madman; and Anne’s story is condensed into gutsy sex object.
The historical aspects of it are generally accurate based on the evidence available on Caribbean pirates of this time. The series is focused on a very specific period and glosses over the long history of piracy in the region that led up to the post-Spanish War of Succession years after 1714.
The ‘pirate kingdom’ is Nassau, a near-abandoned English-owned shanty town on the Bahaman island of Providence almost levelled by the Spanish during the war. Hornigold turns up to use it as base in search of the lost Spanish treasure fleet sunk in a hurricane. The sole remaining English authority in Nassau, Thomas Walker, is horrified at the prospect of a pirate occupation. He pops up occasionally to whinge and all the pirates just roll their eyes. Unfortunately, the most historically relevant part of Nassau, Hornigold’s application of his democratic principles from the sea to the land, is presented in one scene with the historical talking heads telling you it was a really important historical moment. Then the story moves away.
I’ve no doubt it’s really expensive to recreate early 18th century ships on the high seas. This means many of the same dramatised scenes are repeated. Even when the narration tells you Sam Bellamy’s ‘naked attacks’ now include the former African slaves he freed, it’s the same scene from before. I rewinded just to make sure. Nevertheless, the actors do a reasonable job with the little they are given, including the young lady playing Anne Bonny, even if they are all way WAY too clean for my liking.
There are some strange chronological jumps in the narrative that leave open questions. Why were the pirates hunting slave ships? Where were they cashing in all their booty? Why do they talk about the ‘Royal Navy’ like it’s an enormous fleet
of ships? It also becomes very repetitive after a few episodes so it’s probably more suitable for watching in a high school history class than as a binge show on Netflix.
The historical experts are all credible and they cover the pirates’ connections to slaves very well. Unfortunately, the opportunity the series presents to gain Spanish perspectives of this time period is not included. The narrator Derek Jacobi has the deep, expressive voice people watching something about pirates expect (even if some of what he says is not really relevant to the scenes) and the music carries the standard heavy strings that must accompany any kind of nautically themed production.
Overall, if you don’t know anything at all about pirates and you’re interested, it does give a fair overview of the brief period of time pirates roamed the eastern seaboard of the British and Spanish colonies of America. Whether you can be bothered sticking it out to see Woodes Rogers show up and see how it all ended is another question.