It’s no secret that the staffs of Ars are big Taika Waititi Fans. He always brings his resolutely offbeat sensibility to his projects, from What we do in the shadows Wellington Paranormal and Hunting Wilderpeople, at JoJo Rabbit, Reservation Dogs, and Thor: Ragnarok. After filming Thor: Love and Thunder Last year, Waititi somehow found the time to develop a new period comedy series for HBO Max.
It’s called Our flag means death, and HBO just released the first teaser. The series is about an aristocrat who gives up his comfortable life to become a “gentleman pirate”. Even better: the main character, Stede Bonnet (played by Rhys Darby) is based on a real person who sailed with the infamous 18th century pirate Black beard (played by Waititi in the series).
The truth Bonnet location was born on the island of Barbados in 1688 to a wealthy English family and inherited a 400-acre estate upon his father’s death in 1694. By some accounts he was a bookish type and his early life was unremarkable. He married, fathered three sons and a daughter, and briefly served in the army as a major, although there is no record that he engaged in active combat.
But at 29, Bonnet went through something of a midlife crisis and decided to abandon his family and become a pirate, even though he had no experience with ships and sailing. Apparently he had had enough of his wife’s nagging or, as one account put it, he became disillusioned with the “discomforts he found in a married state”. Most pirates seized their ships; Bonnet was a well-to-do man, so he hired a local shipyard to build him a 60-ton sloop with 10 guns. He nicknamed the ship Revenge and hired a crew of over 70 men. Bonnet was actually paying the men a regular salary rather than sharing the plunder with them like a normal pirate.
Given Bonnet’s lack of experience, much of the day-to-day sailing operations were handled by his quartermaster and officer, and he does not appear to have earned much respect from his crew during his short pirate career. (In all fairness, piracy was a dangerous profession and few pirates lived to old age.) Piracy went well at first: Revenge captured and plundered half a dozen ships between spring and September 1717. But a battle with a Spanish man-of-war left Bonnet and the ship in bad shape, although the two eventually escaped.
the Revenge Then he limped into the port of Nassau in the Bahamas for repairs, which is when Bonnet met Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach. Given the crippling nature of his injuries, Bonnet relinquished command of the Revenge (temporarily, he thought) to Blackbeard. Over the next few months they plundered many ships and Blackbeard seized and took command of a 200 ton ship called Concord, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Eventually, Bonnet’s frustrated crew abandoned him and joined Blackbeard in the spring of 1718, and Blackbeard betrayed Bonnet, placing one of his own henchmen in charge of the Revenge. At this time, Bonnet yearned to retire from pirate life, and he was in fact granted a pardon by the Governor of North Carolina on the condition that he renounce piracy forever. Cap has tried to keep his promise, but food became scarce as Atlantic hurricane season was in full swing, so he again resorted to piracy under the alias “Captain Thomas”. He gave Revenge a new name too: royal james.
All the battles have taken their toll again royal james, and after her repair, Bonnet decided to moor in the Cape Fear River to wait out the hurricane season. News of his presence quickly spread to the relevant government authorities, sealing the fate of the gentleman pirate. Bonnet and his men fought against Colonel William Rhett’s naval forces, but they lost and the entire crew was arrested on October 3, 1718. Bonnet was found guilty and eventually hanged (after briefly escaping and recapturing ) on December 10. 1718. In total, Bonnet’s life as a pirate lasted less than two years. Then again, if he had just stayed in Barbados and was living a life of quiet desperation, we probably wouldn’t know his name.
Bonnet’s mentor, Blackbeard, didn’t fare much better. In November 1718, just a month before Bonnet was hanged, Teach and his crew engaged in a fierce battle with a small party of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Eventually, Teach found himself surrounded by Maynard’s men, one of whom cut him in the neck before the rest of the crew joined in the attack. When Maynard examined the body, he found that Teach had been shot five times and cut about twenty times. His head was placed on a post in the Chesapeake Bay for several years as a warning to other pirates.
Based on the teaser by Our flag means death, the series is unlikely to attempt much historical accuracy, which is the right move. Tonally, it evokes something along the lines of Hulu’s extraordinary period comedy series, Great, which takes historical figures and facts and embellishes them, with the odd deliberate anachronism. (Credits for Great claim that the series – which has just been renewed for a third season – is “sometimes true story”.) Great is a high bar to cross, but it’s Taika Waititi we’re talking about, and we have faith in his idiosyncratic vision. We will certainly be listening.
Our flag means death debuts on HBO Max in March.
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