The Bounty (the movie)

In my previous post I reviewed Caroline Alexander’s 2003 book, The Bounty. However, there also exists a movie by the same name, released in 1984 and starring Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh, Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian, and Liam Neeson (in a very early role) as Charles Churchill, whose role in the mutiny was so tangential that I was surprised to see him played by a recognizable actor. The movie is based on an earlier (and apparently less historically accurate) book by Richard Hough.

Despite a few glaring factual errors and an annoying synthesizer score by Vangelis, I actually didn’t hate the movie as much as I thought I would. I was pleasantly surprised by Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Captain Bligh. I expected Bligh to be portrayed as an abusive, raving lunatic of an officer as he had been in previous adaptations of the story, but Hopkins played him as a kind, competent, and fair man who occasionally lost his temper (which is much closer to reality, according to Alexander’s book).

On the other hand, Mel Gibson’s Fletcher Christian was far too doe-eyed and innocent, but that’s partly because the role was written that way. The movie has Christian looking damn near heroic as he mercifully sets Bligh and 18 men adrift in an open boat rather than killing them. In actuality, some of the other mutineers had to beg Christian to give Bligh and his men a boat that didn’t have holes in it, and he would have cast Bligh off wearing nothing but a nightgown if Bligh’s steward hadn’t begged to be allowed to retrieve some clothes for him to wear.

In another of the movie’s unforgivable departures from fact, Christian and the mutineers return to Tahiti and tell King Tynah about the mutiny, then ask his permission to take Tahitian women and men with them. In reality, the mutineers told the Tahitians that Bligh had gone off with Captain Cook to found a settlement on another island and that he had sent them back with the Bounty to gather supplies. They then kidnapped 18 women (one with child) who had come onboard the ship as visitors. One of the women later dived overboard, and six were eventually dumped on a nearby island because they were old and unattractive.

Nevertheless, despite the inaccuracies, the movie was entertaining. It also has the distinction of being the only PG-rated movie I’ve ever seen with literally hundreds of topless young women running around onscreen at various points (it was released just a few months before the PG-13 rating was introduced).