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Not being the biggest fan of TV nowadays, I haven't been paying a lot of attention to what's on over the holidays (aside from Doctor Who, obviously). Instead I spent the weekend with pirates. As it turns out, they proved to be ideal company.

As some people know, I rather like pirates. Proper pirates, that is, not the fake sort. Proper pirates are great fun to be around, they wave swords a lot, and they like to swing from ropes. None of your modern machine guns, and that sort of nonsense. Some people also know that I have an endless devotion to the old ITV mini-series Return To Treasure Island, otherwise known as The Best Piratey Thing Ever. I set my standards high, and I expect my pirates to deliver. This Christmas I think I struck gold. So did they, but that's beside the point. Actually, no it isn't. Treasure! Shiny shiny treasure! And gold doubloons, hurrah!

So anyway. This weekend I discovered an old version of Treasure Island that I have somehow never seen before. It was made in 1990, so goodness knows how I've managed to miss it all these years. Jim was played by a young Christian Bale, and Silver by Charlton Heston, with a very impressive West Country accent, it must be said. He was a terrific Silver. Probably the most vicious I've ever seen him played, and the real embodiment of the character as he was in the books - ready to stab you in the back at a moment's notice, and never show an ounce of mercy for anyone. Really looked the part, too. The rest of the cast were just as good. Christopher Lee as a brilliantly creepy Blind Pew, and good old Oliver Reed as Billy Bones. With a somewhat unfortunate Glaswegian accent for some reason, but we'll gloss over that. Julian Glover as Doctor Livesey, and Clive Wood as a very good Captain Smollett. He was brilliant in the fight scenes. Flintlock pistols! Cutlasses! Things going boom! This is the kind of thing that Christmas is all about.

It doesn't beat Return To Treasure Island, obviously, as that's the gold (and sparkly jewels) standard for piratey adventures. Bloody good, though, regardless. Interestingly, Sky are doing their own version of the story this Christmas, starring Eddie Izzard as Silver, and he's been doing the rounds lately talking about how all the other versions of Treasure Island are a bit cartoony, so he wanted his version to be tougher. Now, I like Eddie Izzard a lot, but I'm left wondering what on earth he's been watching? With the possible exception of Muppet Treasure Island, I can't think of any cartoony versions. The old Disney movie with Robert Newton, perhaps, but that's only one. And it was Disney, so it was never going to be grim and violent. Anyway, Eddie. You've got some work ahead of you if you're going to beat Charlton Heston. Or Brian Blessed, obviously, but then nobody could ever beat him.

So, if you feel yourself piratically bereft, I strongly recommend this little lot. Easily the best adaptation of Treasure Island that I've seen, and I can't say I have much hope that the new version will better it. This one is tough and dirty and bloody. The new version seems strangely sanitised. Anyway, we'll see.

There was one lovely little slip, though. Just after poor Tom Redpath is tragically killed, and his moving little death scene ends, Doctor Livesey reaches over to close his eyes. At which point, in a nice, big close-up, poor Tom Redpath swallows very obviously! Oops. Still, there's mistakes in everything if you look for them. And I think I can forgiving one swallowing corpse in two hours of swords, sailing ships and buried treasure. Very nicely atmospheric music, too.

Some pictures, then.

Oliver Reed enjoying himself immensely.

Christopher Lee doing likewise.

Jim Hawkins, looking less than enthusiastic about having found himself up to his ears in murderous sea dogs. Ungrateful child.

Doctor Livesey being way cool.

The map!

Long John Silver, early on and still being friendly.

A very nice ship.

A meeting of the Heroes Society.



Captain Smollett being awesome.

Silver definitely not being nice anymore.

Captain Smollett being even more awesome. With friend.

Nicely swashbuckly Doctor Livesey.

Rather less swashbuckly Jim. He's going to be Fingerless Jim if he keeps that up.

Captain Smollett has a lighted barrel of gunpowder, and clearly thinks that wielding it in battle is going to be fun. He is my hero.

Silver showing off his splendidly piratical teeth.


Cool, if accidental, screencap showing a flintlock's flashpan igniting (and Charlton Heston flinching quite a bit).

Assorted piratical violence.

Silver enjoys all this immensely.

Jim has guns.

The famous confrontation with Israel Hands.

Silver very definitely not being nice anymore, especially if you're Pete Postlethwaite. Which you probably aren't.

Shiny treasure!

Jim approves of shiny treasure.

Rather nice ending, blatantly nicked from Return To Treasure Island. Not that I'm complaining. They obviously think it's the best piratey thing ever too.

So there we have it. And the whole thing written, produced and directed by Charlton Heston's son, apparently. I must confess I was a bit suspicious when that rolled by in the credits, but it turned out to be all for the best. I definitely recommend this one. I shall be passing it on to my young nephew when I next see him, I think. Children need pirates. Sword-wielding, blood-thirsty maniacs make the best kind of role models, especially when they're mutineers and treasure thieves to boot.


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