How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

142 views  |   September 28th, 2022 

Treasure Island was one of my favourite works of fiction when I was a child. Admittedly my first exposure to the tale was via the Muppets movie adaptation. However, once I did read the Robert Louis Stevenson book it inspired a fascination with sailing and pirates that followed me to adulthood. This is why Black Sails has become one of my most re-watched TV shows in the last few years. This blog will look at how Black Sails blends Fiction & real history to create a realistic and compelling watch. Perfect for anyone with an interest in sailing.

How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

What is Black Sails?

The 2014 show ran for 4 seasons with 38 episodes. It Act’s as a prequel to Treasure Island telling the story of a young Long John Silver as he joins the crew of the infamous James Flint. The show lays the groundwork for the book. Explaining the relationship between Silver, Flint, and the rest of the crew. But more importantly, the story of Captain Flint’s lost treasure, how he came about it, and how it ended up buried in the first place. 

But that is not all Black Sails is. It also is semi-historical using real-world events and characters as a backdrop for the story. Set all over the Caribbean but predominantly in Nassau. The show features infamous pirates such as Blackbeard, Charles Vain, Jack Rackham & Anne Bonnie, alongside other real historical figures such as British Governor Woodes Rogers as an antagonist. 

The show centres around the last days of the Golden Days of Piracy in 1715. Thus it features real events and battles and delves into mysteries such as the sinking and missing treasure of the Spanish gold galleon Urca de Lima.

How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

In terms of the backstory given for Long John Silver and Flint’s treasure, there is enough surface-level information in the books to make the story work. However, when developing a TV show there is not enough substance there. That is why blending the fictional story and history is such a brilliant idea. 

By turning the real-life figures into characters and having them interact with Silver and Cook while maintaining their own story arc it fleshes out the story and builds a bigger universe. For example Jack Rackham and Anne Bonnies relationship. Charles Vain trying to live up to the reputation of his mentor and father figure black beard. It all blends perfectly with the story of Silver and Cook and the Urca de Lima gold.

Creative Libraries

Despite How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History. Much like any adaptation, there are some creative libraries taken to service the story. In terms of the Fiction, much of the backstory for characters such as James Flint had to be fleshed out given the lack of information in the books. The show makes Flint a disgraced Royal Navy Officer with a mysterious secret in his past. That secret proves to be a huge character trait and defining story moment. While the show is based on and uses real historical characters and events as a backdrop. Again they had to be fleshed and don’t claim to be perfectly historically accurate.

How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

Practical Sets and Sailing

Black Sails takes a much more gritty and realistic approach in the way it portrays sailing epically the pirate lifestyle. Other big franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean seem to glorify the lifestyle rather than explore the darker side. This extends to other aspects such as battles. The show explores the grim and bloody reality of 18th-century naval warfare. People die, and lose limbs. Captured pirates face the harsh reality of being caught by the navy.

Like Pirates of the Caribbean before it. Black Sails tries to use practical sets as much as possible, including out at sea. Using real replica ships creating a sense of realism that sells the story. One aspect I like personally is how when the ship of the main characters is damaged, they stay damaged unlike in a lot of media where in the next scene the ships are suddenly good as new. In black sails, the ships stay damaged until they have a chance to fix them. One Ship is missing it’s Captains Cabin windows for most of the season after getting them blown off. 

There is a great scene in season one where Flint’s ship is dragged ashore before a big raid on a Spanish man o’war. The plan was to remove all the barnacles from the hull of the ship to ensure they can sail as fast as possible. Its little details such as this that help give the show a sense of authenticity.

How Black Sails Blends Fiction & Real History

Don’t Forget Your Theory

But it’s not just in the boats themselves Black Sails strives for realism. It’s a common occurrence to see characters standing over a chart with a sextant plotting a course. In one episode the main crew gets stranded at sea with no wind. The show delves into the difficulties of this situation and how running out of supplies can exacerbate the danger. We have episodes that highlight the dangers of sailing into bad weather with some practical technical skills used that every sailor should know. All skills we teach here at first class sailing.

Much like the practical use of boats, adding these sorts of scenes help give the show a sense of realism. For me personally, it goes to show, that the writers and directors of this show either knew what they were talking about, being sailors. If not that they surely did their research and had experts advising them.

All in all between the interning blending of fiction and history, and the attention to detail, Black Sails is a show for anyone with an interest in sailing. 

If this blog peaked your sailing interest and you want to learn to sail check out the course progression plan to find out where to start.  

https://www.firstclasssailing.com/first-class-sailing-rya-course-progression-plan

Posted by: First Class Sailing

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