“Our Flag Means Death” colorful and timeless story

“Our Flag Means Death” is a hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking fictionalized account of 18th-century pirates. It traces the life of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) as he attempts to flee his upper-class life for the life of piracy. When Stede’s rag-tag crew and ill-prepared ship collide with the iconic Blackbeard (Taika Watiti), they and their crews explore the high seas and form unexpected bonds. 

Taika Watiti steals the show as Blackbeard and Blackbeard’s alter ego, Edward Teach. He’s tough and occasionally brutal, but his moments of tenderness are genuine and heartfelt. Watiti plays Teach with depth and complexity. As Stede Bonnet, Rhys Darby is humorously bumbling and sweet. His affection towards his crew is clear and genuine, and his decisions seem entirely understandable and human. 

Bonnet’s crew contains a myriad of entertaining subplots and lively characters that create a vibrant backdrop for the rest of the pirates. Jim (Vico Ortiz) is a highlight as a skilled fighter in disguise with a bounty on their head. 

The technical effects in “Our Flag Means Death” are not particularly noteworthy. There’s a significant number of stabbings, as well as some body horror and gore that’s effectively disgusting if not technically incredible. 

The writing is where the show truly shines as it both plays into classic pirate tropes and subverts them. The ferocious captain, the conniving first mate, and the dichotomy between pirate life and upper-class nobility are classic stories that are played with sincerity. The ending, while emotionally gripping, leaves the door open for a fantastic second season that I hope comes to fruition. 

“Our Flag Means Death” is unique amongst modern pirate shows with its representation of queer characters and characters from a variety of nationalities. There’s a general presumption that the world of pirates was headed by violent European men. Yet, during the Golden Age of Piracy, the pirating world was much more diverse. Jim flees a life as a woman to disguise themself as a man aboard Stede’s ship. Jim’s gender is acknowledged and respected by the crew. Jim’s story is representative of real-life pirates who subverted female gender norms such as Anne Bonney and Mary Read. The romances in “Our Flag Means Death” are serendipitous and sweet while maintaining historical accuracy. 

For those searching for a historical comedy with moments of sweetness and heartbreak, “Our Flag Means Death” is a treat. The acting and writing are superb, and the pirate story provides a backdrop for a timeless and big-hearted story.