Pirate Tales
directed by Kevin McCarey
(Warner Brothers, 1997)

Pirate Tales transports you back into the golden age of sailing the way no mere film about piracy ever could.

As much educational as it is entertaining, Pirate Tales provides a running history of piracy from the days of Francis Drake through to the pinnacle of buccaneering in the Caribbean and beyond. But don't watch this expecting an action flick filled with violence and gore; most of the fight scenes are subtle, and there's nothing here to give pause to even the most timid of souls. The action sequences punctuate the history of piracy, which is narrated by the disembodied voice of Chuck Shamata and by actor Roger Daltrey in the role of William Dampier, a historical figure who was a 17th-century English privateer, map-maker and explorer, and who later wrote about his travels and exploits. Together, Shamata and Daltrey explain the motivations behind piracy, as well as the differences between privateers and buccaneers. They provide colorful details on the lives of notorious pirates, from the noble Drake to the Irish patriot Grace O'Malley and on through the likes of the ruthless Captain Henry Morgan, the ambitious "Long Ben" Avery, the unfortunate Captain Kidd and more. (Oddly, the notorious Blackbeard is never mentioned.)

While actors bring to life various scenes of sailing, combat and trial, a variety of historians and authors on the subject appear to explain the details, their motivations and the times which drove them. And many surprising facts come to light, such as the various ways a crown could sanction acts of piracy and the democratic way in which many pirate ships were run. The stories here take us from the shores of England and Spain, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and east to Madagascar and East Indian treasure ships.

The ships they sail and the costumes they wear in this made-for-cable production appear historically accurate. Colorful paintings and sketches (some historical, some modern) illustrate society at the time. And the stories they tell help to separate fact from legend, making clearer the circumstances which made piracy alluring to so many seafarers, as well as the triumphs and tragedies which befell them.

There are plenty of movies on the market which bring swashbuckling action to the big screen, and there are countless books which spell out the facts of those turbulent times. Pirate Tales is a fun and fascinating blend, making the learning experience an entertaining one as well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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