Hallmark Channel cashes in on the anticipation of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” as well as the goodwill of desperate summer TV viewers, with a feisty original that has a little something for everyone. “Blackbeard” is an old-fashioned popcorn pic, featuring dashing heroes, plucky love interests and very bad men in funny wigs. And like roguish pirates who adhere to a strict code, “Blackbeard” sticks to the time-honored conventions of a TV movie — romance, action, romance, action, romance.
If there’s one thing Hallmark does well, it’s work the eye candy from picturesque locations to colorful period costumes. Add a roster of TV movie veterans — including Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Stacy Keach — offering juicy turns in smaller roles and all the essentials of a crowd-pleaser are present.
Angus Macfadyen (“Braveheart”) offers a robust portrayal of the dastardly Blackbeard, a murderous and corrupt leader not without some charm. He is able to secretly join forces with the New Providence elite, including its corrupt governor, Charles Eden (Chamberlain).
Blackbeard’s plan to locate Captain Kidd’s long-missing treasure is interrupted by Lt. Robert Maynard (Mark Umbers), whose orders are to bring in the rogue at all costs. Blackbeard is as ill-mannered and unprincipled as Maynard is chivalrous, but, as it turns out, they are equals in combat. Their rivalry is fueled by a good bit of machismo and ego, and suffice it to say, it leads to much swordplay, plundering of treasure and partaking of hearty grog.
Bryce Zabel’s script is high pirate drama laced with a smattering of facts to create a fast-paced and entertaining, if formulaic, story.
Despite historical liberties taken, Macfadyen’s perf has a certain authenticity to it. After all, a true pirate can steal with a smile as well as a sword. Umbers, as the righteous Maynard, is appropriately charming, as is his love interest, the plucky Charlotte, played by Jessica Chastain.
Chamberlain gets in some excellent scenery chewing, what with his twitching nostrils, quivering lip and fabulous wig, while Ward does a nice turn as the smoky-voiced bar wench Sally Dunbar.
Director Kevin Connor takes a page or two from “Master and Commander’s” thrilling ship battle sequences, however, the New Providence set and overall production looks fairly staged. Connor does put his own stamp on the rest of the film, most notably a clever segment involving angry natives and poison darts. Connor is big on action, but not on gore, making the pic appropriate for the younger set.
Kudos to Dana Campbell’s costume design, which resists the bodice-ripping outfits in favor of more authentic-looking apparel. There be no puffy shirts here. This Blackbeard looks like he smells bad.