The lore of pirates is something utterly soaked into popular culture, yet we are all probably well aware that little of what we ‘know’ is really true. The Lost Pirate Kingdom is a docuseries complete with dramatic re-enactments that seeks to bring to life the oceanic legends of early 18th century Caribbean piracy.
When it comes to delivering the history, The Lost Pirate Kingdom is an engrossing watch. It is explained how the War of Spanish Succession (in which the English relied heavily on privateers rather than the more expensive Royal Navy) led to a whole hoard of sailors were left abandoned in the Caribbean. No longer given licence to rob enemy vessels on behalf of the Crown, many simply continued to do so for their own ends.
We see how the pirate republic of Nassau in the Bahamas was set up and became a magnetic hub for those seeking lawless adventure. The show follows key pirates such as Benjamin Hornigold, Edward Thatch (better known as Blackbeard), Sam Bellamy, and Black Caesar, going into detail about the rise and fall of their fortunes, and how they managed to be so effective at holding to ransom the lucrative slave and sugar trades between Britain, Spain, and the U.S. It’s also fun to learn about their democratic nature (Captains could be deposed by popular vote) and how Nassau genuinely offered a better life for so many.
The budget of the show has been wisely spread around. The actors do a good job of making their characters believable human beings rather than the stuff of comic books, and the (albeit limited) sets have a good sense of life at sea and port towns. The switch to CGI for nautical battles isn’t the best but it is also used in short bursts and so slots in with the real action and green screened inserts very well.
Tonally though, well, Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for and The Lost Pirate Kingdom clearly takes heavy influence from it. To be fair, the historical backdrop of profit, war, betrayal, and survival is as thrilling as any fiction and to give it a hefty dose of modern nastiness does indeed bring the story to life. However, there are plenty of, erm, unnecessary scenes of sexual rambunctiousness peppered throughout the narrative of bubbling loyalties and talking head historians.
It’s in this respect that The Lost Pirate Kingdom, to its discredit, plays to a base appeal that can be rather insulting at times. This is especially so when dealing with such women as the pirate Anne Bonny. One expert’s summarisation of her as a ‘stereotypically flame haired Irish woman who slept with whichever man she pleased and had a fiery word for all’ smacks of a very romanticised male point of view, erroneously conflating necessary female survival methods with individually chosen freedom.
Whilst The Lost Pirate Kingdom commendably delivers an entertaining history lesson it does so at the cost of being too populist at times. The series is narrated by Derek Jacobi whose trademark luvvie tones are occasionally jarring and off-putting; his over-pronounced delivery undercuts any attempt at gravitas when it breaks you out of the spell of what’s going on. Regardless, the series is an enjoyable effort to put a real face on otherwise pantomime people, even if it remains impossible to write a theme tune that isn’t strikingly similar to a best selling movie series about a Caribbean full of Pirates. You know, the ones where the rum is always gone.
Words by Mike Record