29 March 2006 | blackhawk66
A Better Interpretation Based on Hough's Book
Not only is the story of Bligh and Christian the most famous mutiny in history, it is also the most filmed. It started with an Australian silent movie in 1916. The Aussies took another shot at filming the Bounty mutiny in 1933, providing a young Errol Flynn (as Fletcher Christian) with his first movie role. That was followed only two years later by the first American try with Charles Laughton in a tour-de-force performance as a sadistic Captain Bligh. Nearly thirty years passed before another movie attempted the story. The 1962 production remains controversial, as does Marlon Brando's affected turn as Christian. These earlier movies were based on the books by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall that portrayed the Bounty's commander, William Bligh, as a brutal disciplinarian and the second in command, Fletcher Christian, as a hero. The actual story is not so black and white. In Captain Bligh and Mister Christian: The Men and the Mutiny (1972), Richard Hough presented a more balanced account of the famous mutiny that is meticulously researched and shows keen psychological insight into the characters of the men involved. It is on Hough's book that The Bounty is based.
The Bounty has a lot going for it. It is based on Hough's book, perhaps the best account of the mutiny. The screenplay was written by Robert Bolt, who also wrote such classics as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Man for All Seasons, and Ryan's Daughter. His work shows in the complex, fully realized characters that are the center of this story. And those characters are brought to life by an amazingly strong cast - Anthony Hopkins (an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs) as William Bligh, Mel Gibson (an Oscar for directing Braveheart) as Fletcher Christian, Daniel Day-Lewis (an Oscar for My Left Foot) as John Fryer, and Liam Neeson (nominated for an Oscar for Schindler's List) as Churchill. Of course, none of these actors were famous yet when they performed in The Bounty. Two film giants, Laurence Olivier and James Fox, make cameo appearances as Admiral Hood and Captain Greenham, respectively, members of the Court Martial that tries Bligh on his return to Britain. The rest of the cast is not so well known, but they are all excellent.
Anthony Hopkins' Bligh is definitely not a villain, but he is at best a flawed hero. Hopkins, as he always does, makes the character of Bligh completely believable. He is a superb seaman and a man of unquestioned courage. He is also a very capable leader in the right circumstances, but he has a quick temper and a tendency to shift responsibility from himself to others. And he is an ambitious man with no connections or influence in a society where those weigh as heavily as skill and competency. When the chance to make a name for himself seems to be drifting from his grasp, his frustration and anger is turned on those around him. Hopkins never seems to be acting. He becomes Bligh.
Mel Gibson was a bigger name actor than Hopkins even when this movie was made, but it is obvious that he is not quite in the same league. His is the weakest performance of the primary actors, but that's still not bad considering the caliber of this cast. He does a nice job of letting Fletcher Christian evolve from a rather shallow, genial fop into a tortured leader of a mutiny. He seems to work a little too hard at being the tormented soul during the mutiny but it's a good overall performance and does not detract from the story.
The Bounty does an especially fine job of showing the Tahitians as real people. The costumes and behavior feel completely authentic. Wi Kuki Kaa as King Tynah, although not on screen for very long, manages to create a fully realized and sympathetic character. Tevaite Vernette as Mauatua, Christian's Tahitian wife, is lovely but a bit bland at first. Once the mutineers have left Tahiti on the Bounty, she develops into a stronger character who backs Christian when the other mutineers turn against him.
Roger Donaldson's direction is deliberate. He builds the story slowly and purposefully, piling small scenes one atop another to build a foundation for the intense, emotion-laden scenes of the mutiny and its consequences. The pace may be too slow for modern viewers grown accustomed to the quick-cut editing of contemporary action/adventure movies, but the pay-off is worth the effort for those with some patience.
The Bounty is a beautiful movie. Wonderful cinematography by Arthur Ibbetson makes full use of the sea and tropical islands. There's nothing quite like the appeal of a full rigged ship under sail and we get plenty of the Bounty - brilliant, sun-drenched shots, towering waves and howling winds around the Horn, silhouettes of the ship against color saturated evening skies, and more.
Of the three movies I've seen based on the story of the mutiny on the Bounty, this is my favorite. It is more historically accurate in its presentation of the events, the characters, the ship, and the Tahitian people and culture. A brilliant screen play and fine performances from an exceptional cast are the core of the movie. It is well crafted and beautifully filmed. The pacing may be slow for some, but for anyone interested in this famous mutiny or sea stories, in general, it is highly recommended.