My mom read several classic adventure stories to me and my siblings as we were growing up and the memory of Treasure Island by Robert Louise Stevenson is one of my favorites.
The news that Sky1 (a UK satellite TV company) was producing a new adaptation of this classic Stevenson book was intriguing, especially after hearing of the projected cast. I was overjoyed when Netflix just recently made it available on their online streaming. I added it to my "to watch" list and waited a bit trying to convince my sister sister to watch it with me. Well, after a couple weeks I just couldn't wait any longer so I watched it by myself and raved about it so much my sister decided to watch it with me the next day! It's rather long so we watched a bit of the first part one night and then stayed up way too late the next night finishing part one and watching part two! Once you get into it you really want to find out what's going to happen next! After watching it twice I had lots of questions about how it matched up to the original story so I found a LibriVox recording of Treasure Island and enjoyed hearing it read to me again.
Story: Jim Hawkins and his mother continue running the Admiral Benbow Inn after his father dies. One day a swarthy gentleman, called "Captain" Billy Bones, with a huge sea chest comes to stay at the inn and although he pays handsomely at first stays quite a while drinking them into debt. When Billy's pirate friends close in and he suddenly dies Jim and his mother take their pay from Billy's sea chest, including a strange map, and hide for fear of their lives until the pirates leave. When Jim shows the map to his friend Dr. Livesey they discover that it details exactly where infamous pirate Captain Flint's treasure has been hid on a deserted island. Local nobleman Squire Trelawney finances the expedition to retrieve the treasure with Dr. Livesey and Jim joining the hastily formed crew. As cabin boy, Jim assists the one legged ship's cook Long John Silver and soon becomes wary of Silver's motives and the other crew members he has brought with him. As they near the island the threat of mutiny against honest Captain Smollett increases as the lust for treasure broods in each crew member's heart and Jim Hawkins will have to decide between friendship and untold wealth.
Accuracy To Book: When I watched it the first time I had some questions about if a few of the characters were represented accurately and that's why I listened to the audiobook. It turns out that there's a bit of back story added to characters like Dr. Livesey, Billy Bones, Long John Silver and the other pirates. The film starts out with a scene of Captain Flint and his gang, why the pirates disliked Billy Bones and had been cheated out of their share in the treasure. In the book Captain Flint is mentioned in name only as a cutthroat pirate. Dr. Livesey in the book is strong and brave but in this film he is a bit of a coward but with a kind heart. In the book Squire Trelawney is an older man who is cheery and blabbers on too much, here he is younger, reckless, religious and wealth hungry. Ben Gunn is portrayed as a younger man and a "Yankee" or American born which isn't mentioned in the book. Some of the jobs of the various ship crew members are changed a bit and the crew members come from various nationalities including Jamaican, Portuguese, Chinese, American and British. In the book the first mate Mr. Arrow drinks too much and one night he just disappears from the ship. In the film the second mate Mr. Dujon mysteriously falls from the rigging to the deck and is killed, Mr. Arrow is supplied with drink by Silver and becomes so unruly he tries to injure Squire Trelawney and is keel hauled as punishment (which is the reason Jim climbs in the apple barrel). The Treasure Map comes into play a bit more than in the book as Jim secretly has the map for most of their time on the island. The biggest character change is that of Long John Silver. In the book not much is known of him and although Jim likes him at first he distrusts him after discovering his mutiny plans and finds that he is really very evil. In the film Silver is softened somewhat as they show some of his back story and that the reason he wants the treasure is so that he and his wife can live in comfort and style. He doesn't use as many "Shiver Me Timbers" and other pirate phrases as in the book and becomes more of a friend to Jim. In the book Silver's wife is mentioned and said to be a "woman of colour" who he leaves in charge of The Spyglass Inn, but in this film they don't own The Spyglass and Mrs. Silver goes to live with Jim's mother at The Admiral Benbow Inn until the The Admiral Benbow is foreclosed on by Squire Trelawney's men.
*Spoilers* The ending of the film is most notably different. In the book Ben Gunn leaves Treasure Island with them but two pirates were left on the island, here Ben Gunn decided to stay on the island. After collecting the treasure on board the ship Jim Hawkins decides to throw it overboard and Captain Smollett and Dr. Livesey encourages him, in the book they keep the treasure but the wealth doesn't last very long for most of them. The Squire jumps into the water and drowns while trying to reach some treasure, in the book he lives on. When they near Bristol where they intend to deliver John Silver to the authorities, Silver tells Jim to not testify in his defense or he might be implicated in piracy by association. Before they reach port Jim helps Silver escape in a life boat and Silver promises to come back to claim the parrot Flint and maybe have another adventure with Jim one day, unlike in the book where Silver escapes without help long before reaching Bristol. *End of Spoilers*
Costumes: Squire Trelawney's costumes are extravagantly fine in tones of red, navy blue, gold and white. Sometimes it's like "what is he wearing?!?!" and it's funny when characters like Captain Smollett say something to him about his bold fashion statements such as: "You are not your father, however much you dress up!" The pirates and Jim Hawkins have only a few changes of clothes. Long John Silver wears plain clothes and then after they reach the island and he takes charge of his pirate men he dons a richly embroidered jacket and stands out as their leader. Jim Hawkins is usually neatly dressed but like the other characters on the island as their battles lengthen they become continually disheveled. Meg Hawkins and Mrs. Silver wear fairly homely dresses and have their hair down.
Music: While the sea shanty Dead Man's Chest is sun briefly by Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow Inn is isn't used again which is a bit of a shame as it was Robert Louis Stevenson's creation. Two other longer sea shanties are used in stead: Lowlands Away is sung by Long John Silver and the crew as they leave Bristol and Go To Sea No More is sung by the pirates when they reach the island. All other music was composed by Antony Genn and Martin Slattery. The soundtrack contains the adventurous open melodies as well as darker scarier themes and with the addition of some electric instruments has a bit more modern feel.
Actors In Their Roles:
- Toby Regbo as Jim Hawkins - An amazing newcomer! It's hard to believe that actor Toby playing the fifteen-year-old Jim was actually nineteen! He really throws himself into the role and becomes Jim Hawkins. You don't doubt Jim for a minute and it's great to see his journey from boy to young man and see the lessons he learns. Toby did well with the period drama manners and I'd love to see him in more period films.
- Shirley Henderson as Meg Hawkins - As Jim's mother she was a bit weaker and dumber than the strong woman in the book. Her story was a bit bizarre and didn't come from the book. It was nice to see that Jim's mother was waiting for him back home but it was sad to see her lose The Admiral Benbow after she'd already lost so much. Actress Shirley Henderson is in The Way We Live Now and although she's a good actress her voice grates on the nerves after a while.
- David Harewood as Billy Bones - It's a bit odd to have Billy Bones portrayed as a Jamaican but it works fairly well with this adaptation as there's several other African-British actors as part of the pirate crew. When watching for the first time I said to myself "this actor did a great job being all crazy and scared, I wonder who he is". Then all of a sudden I heard a cadence in the voice and a look in the eyes that was familiar so I just had to look up the actor and I was doubly in awe! I'm used to seeing David Harewood in a business suit as a politician or dressed as a friar in BBC Robin Hood using his deep voice calmly and rationally - Billy Bones is a totally different character and really shows David's versatility as an actor!
- Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver - A British comedian taking on a classic literature villain role? Yes! It actually works so well! He creates a John Silver that is dangerous because he smooth talks everyone and speaks with such controlled calm. You like him and feel a bit sorry for him even though you know what he's doing is selfish and wrong. The tattoo on the side of his head is odd but strangely fits this Silver. Eddie Izzard's dedication to the role was commendable, he reportedly used the crutch and hopped on one leg for weeks beforehand in preparation and even off camera on the set he tried to only use the one leg.
- Rupert Penry-Jones as Squire Trelawney - Younger and more greedy than in the book this Squire Trelawney boarders on evil with his mania for treasure! I always want to like actor Rupert Penry-Jones (he's quite good looking after all) but with the exception of Captain Wentworth in Persuasion 2007 he does seem to take on more gray roles where it's hard to know whether he's the heroic type or the villain, but it's always great seeing him in a period drama role!
- Philip Glenister as Captain Alexander Smollett - This film's Captain Smollett and Jim Hawkins are probably the closest to the characters in the book. Captain Smollett is given a ship of unruly sailors to direct and does so with great clearness. He becomes the moral compass of the book as he always acts justly. After his Horatio Hornblower days it was great to see actor Philip Glenister as a heroic sailor again and for those fans of Mr. Carter in Cranford here's another actor you will recognize. Mr. Glenister also joked in an interview that he based his portrayal of Captain Smollett off of Kermit the Frog in Muppet Treasure Island. :)
- Daniel Mays as Dr. Livesey - Unlike the bold doctor of the book this Dr. Livesey is haunted by memories of his past - his cowardice as an Army doctor and failing to save his wife who died in childbirth. It seems he likes Jim's mother Meg as he visits their inn very often and looks at her a bit longingly. He is teased by Squire Trelawney who eventually decides that Livesey and Jim don't deserve a share of the treasure. Jim tries to reach out to him for help a few times but Livesey cowers away in fear but eventually does man up and shows himself to have the necessary bravery needed to survive. Actor Daniel Mays looked so familiar to me throughout the film but it turns out I've only seen him in Doctor Who and in Nanny McPhee Returns.
- Elijah Wood as Ben Gunn - In the book Ben Gunn was an older man who talks of the Bible, goats and cheese. Although these same elements are used this Ben Gunn is much younger and a bit more odd and crazy if that's possible. Actor Elijah Wood's eyes are hauntingly blue, especially surrounded by the war paint he wears on his face and chest. I found it a bit of a contradiction that although he talks of being "Christian" he dresses and acts rather like a savage - but then I suppose strange things like that could happen if you've been on a deserted island for too long!
- Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint - In the book he's not shown but this film starts out with showing his part of the pirates back story, shows up in Billy Bones' memories and he appears as a ghost a few other times to taunt John Silver and the other men on the island. Period drama fans will recognize Donald Sutherland from Pride & Prejudice (2005) but this role seems much more suited to his skills than his role as Mr. Bennet.
- Nina Sosanya as Alibe Silver - Another character who is just hinted at in the book but is given more scenes in this film. She tell Meg that she's a former prostitute who John Silver rescues, marries and that they dream of living in style after they return with the treasure. She initially steals from Meg when she stays at the Admiral Benbow but eventually ends up helping her after the inn is foreclosed on.
- Geoff Bell as Israel Hands & Other Ship's Crew - In the book Israel Hands is the pirate Jim Hawkins meets up with when he tries to take over the ship while the other crew is on the island. In the film Israel is not a good sailor and he encourages the mutiny. He has a stunt fall that is wonderfully filmed, a great shot! The other sailors are slightly mixed up from their roles in the book but are each interesting and seem to make sense in the story.
- Keith Allen as Pew - Appearing early and briefly in the story I didn't even recognize until later that blind pirate Pew was played by BBC Robin Hood's own hilarious Sheriff of Nottingham! I can't help wishing he had a bigger role as one of the sailors on the ship.
My Thoughts: Although there were several changes made that differ from Robert Louis Stevenson's book I really didn't mind them too much. I frankly like this Long John Silver better than any I've seen before (well, unless you count Tim Curry in Muppet Treasure Island!). Overall the characters are quite well cast with few exceptions. I enjoyed most of the back stories they included except perhaps the bit about Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Silver. It was interesting that the film makers wanted to depict how hard life at sea could be but in a way that isn't too gruesome. The most important thing to me is that it captures the spirit of the book and when you watch you can just revel in the fun of a high seas adventure!
My Recommendations: Probably ages thirteen and up as there is some mild language, dry but slightly off color jokes, Mrs. Silver mentions having been a prostitute and not wanting to go back to that life, there's also some violence that you would expect with pirates: merciless shooting and sword fighting.
If you enjoy the book you may or may not enjoy some of the changes to the story but they are interesting twists that make it fresh. Treasure Island (2012) is not a gentle period drama it is a swashbuckling adventure story where salt water, sweat and dirt abound but it is such a fun film!
Watch trailers and cast interviews at the official Sky1 Treasure Island page!
Have you read Treasure Island?
Have you seen Treasure Island (2012)? What did you think of it?
P.S. This is my first film review for the Period Drama Challenge that I'm hosting. Don't forget to enter your review links! If you haven't heard about this event yet I encourage you to join in the fun by clicking on the button below!