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NBC have launched their nautical drama series Crossbones, starring John Malkovich and thus far the show is neither fish nor fowl and too wordy by far. Following AMC with their attempt at “period” drama the series’ makers cannot seem to decide just what they want the show to be.
In the season premiere, the audience learn that Blackbeard the pirate, aka Captain Edward Teach, looks nothing as described by numerous history books but like the bald-headed Malkovich, who is no stranger to playing convincing villains.
Viewers also learn that the pirate was desperate to get his hands on the newly invented chronometer. A device which helped the British Empire rule the seven seas. Capturing not only the navigational instrument but the man who invented it has been passed down to Teach’s minions who only manage to collect the broken pieces of the machine along with the freshly poisoned inventor.
A 1700’s version of James Bond, Tom Lowe, was dispatched with the ship to both protect the chronometer and to exterminate with extreme prejudice the troublesome Teach. Crossbones owes a lot to Disney Studios and The Pirates of the Caribbean. If the film franchise had not proved so popular, it seems unlikely that this series would ever have been made; award winning Malkovich or no.
Rather annoyingly, the makers of Crossbones cannot seem make up their minds as to whether the show should be more historical or just sound good. Making the final product neither fish nor fowl and miles too wordy.
Taking a moment to look at the two main protagonists and the “partial” third, Malkovich, as the saying goes, needs no introduction. His portrayal of Blackbeard goes against the grain, in terms of previous incarnations of the infamous pirate. There are no smoking fuses stuck in his beard here and gone also are the more gory facets of his historical personality.
Richard Coyle, a very capable English actor from Sheffield, portrays ship’s surgeon and “spy” Lowe who must keep himself and his colleague Tim Fletch alive long enough to either kill or capture Teach. Coyle can best be described as a sort of nervous looking Russell Crowe. Despite this, he can handle action well, but there is not very much required in this episode.
Last of the more well known names in this show is Julian Sands. Another British export, the 56 year-old actor has 116 credits under his belt and is a favorite in the horror genre. The actor has a lovely voice and specializes in “heavy duty” characters. Sadly in this show, the few scenes he features in, he appears to be a bored madman.
The look in his eyes suggest a man who really does not want to be there but who is trying desperately to appear engaged. Even Sands’ short scenes are a tad too verbose. All the characters have been doomed to mutter, with almost cut-glass English drawing-room accents or bog standard “Brit-speak” long, boring and multi-syllabic sentences.
It must have seemed a good idea to cast Malkovich as the legendary Blackbeard, but the presence of this cinematic giant, hopelessly miscast as a sort of Apocalypse Now Kurtz version of a 1700’s pirate is ludicrous and a waste of his talent.
Sadly Crossbones, which really is neither fish nor fowl, seems to believe that the 18th century was long wordy speeches about everything and lots of complex sentences saying very little but taking a long time to do so. On a kinder and more flattering note, the sets looked lovely, the costumes perfunctory and the cinematography stunning. Heed the warning shipmates, “Ahoy the ship, prepare to be bored.”
By Michael Smith