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The Bounty is a 1984 British historical drama film directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, and produced by Bernard Williams with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. It is the fifth film version of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. The screenplay was by Robert Bolt and it was based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1972) by Richard Hough. It was made by Dino De Laurentiis Productions and distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation and Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment. The music score was composed by Vangelis and the cinematography was by Arthur Ibbetson.


The film is set as flashbacks from the court martial at Greenwich of Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) for the loss of HMS Bounty to mutineers led by his friend Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson), during its expedition to Tahiti to gather breadfruit pods for transplantation in the Caribbean.

Bligh sets out from Great Britain in December 1787, electing to sail the Bounty west round the tip of South America in an attempt to use the expedition to fulfill an ambition to circumnavigate the globe. The attempt to round Cape Horn fails due to harsh weather, and the ship is obliged to take the longer eastern route. Finally arriving in Tahiti in October 1788, Bligh finds that due to the delays, the wind is against them for a quick return journey and they must stay on the island for four months longer than planned.

During their stay in Tahiti, ship discipline becomes problematic, many of the crew develop a taste for the easy pleasures that island life offers, making the relationship with their Captain tense. Bligh, at the same time, subjects the crew to pressure, eventually reaching breaking point. When the ship leaves Tahiti, Fletcher is forced to leave his native wife, Mauatua, behind.

The resumption of naval discipline on the return voyage turns Bligh into a tyrant not willing to tolerate any disobedience whatsoever, creating an atmosphere of tension and violence. Bligh insists that the ship is dirty and orders the crew to clean up several times a day. Many of the men, including Christian, are singled out for tongue-lashings by Bligh.

Playing on Christian's resentment against Bligh's treatment of both him and the men, the more militant members of the crew finally persuade Christian to take control of the ship. Bligh is roused from his bed and arrested, along with those considered loyal to him, and they are forced into a ship's boat, minimally supplied, and cast adrift. The film follows both the efforts of Fletcher Christian to get his men beyond the reach of British punishment, and the epic voyage of Bligh to get his loyalists safely to the Dutch East Indies in a longboat.

Bligh, through courage and excellent seamanship, and a return of his good character and leadership qualities, successfully manages to reach civilisation after a very harrowing journey without navigational charts nor firearms. One man, however, is killed by natives as the crew stop for supplies on a hostile island. Bligh is portrayed as a man who, on the one hand takes his sense of discipline and command too far, exceeding the limits of the ship's company, but whose character ultimately successfully protects his loyal non-mutineers and guides their overcrowded boat to safety.

The mutineers sail back to Tahiti to collect their wives, girlfriends and native friends. King Tynah (Wi Kuki Kaa), however, is concerned that their presence on the island could incite King George to declare war against Tahiti and his people. Realising the folly of staying, they gather supplies and sail away to try to find a safe refuge. Christian pleads with Tynah to allow Mauatua to decide her own destiny. Tynah concedes, and Mauatua chooses the uncertainty of a life with Christian over remaining with her father.

The search for a safe haven is long and seemingly impossible, as they realise that any pursuing Royal Navy vessels will search all known islands and coastlines to find them. At this point, those who remained on board the Bounty are so frustrated that they are ready to rebel against Christian to turn the ship back towards Tahiti. After Christian forces the crew to continue on, they eventually find Pitcairn Island, a place which Christian realises is not marked on British maps of the region.

As the crew of the Bounty burn the ship to keep it from being found (as well as to motivate the crew to tough it out on the island), the judgment of Bligh's court martial is read: Bligh is found to have not been responsible for the loss of the Bounty, and is commended for the voyage of the open boat. Meanwhile, Fletcher Christian and his men realise that they will never go back home to Britain.

Cast and characters


This version was originally a longstanding project of director David Lean and his frequent collaborator, Robert Bolt, who worked on it from 1977 until 1980. It was originally to have been released as a two-part film, one named The Lawbreakers that dealt with the voyage out to Tahiti and the subsequent mutiny, and the second which was to have been named The Long Arm, a study of the journey and the mutineers after the mutiny, as well as the admiralty's response in sending out the frigate HMS Pandora. Lean could not find financial backing for both films after Warner Bros. withdrew from the project; he decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part TV series, before finally getting backing from Italian magnate Dino De Laurentiis. Unfortunately for Lean, the project suffered a further setback when Bolt suffered a massive stroke and was unable to continue writing; the director felt that Bolt's involvement would be crucial to the film's success. Melvyn Bragg ended up writing a considerable portion of the script.

Lean was ultimately forced to abandon the project after overseeing casting and the construction of the Bounty replica; at the last possible moment, Mel Gibson brought in his friend Roger Donaldson to direct the film, as producer De Laurentiis did not want to lose the millions he had already put into the project over what he thought was as insignificant a person as the director dropping out.[1]

Anthony Hopkins was one of two actors considered for the role of Captain Bligh by David Lean. The other was Oliver Reed. Christopher Reeve, Sting and David Essex were considered for the role of Fletcher Christian. The role of Peter Heywood (who inspired the character 'Roger Byam' in the novel and earlier film versions) was originally intended to be played by Hugh Grant.

The replica of the Bounty used in the film was built in New Zealand before the script was even completed at a cost of $4 million; the entire film cost $25 million. However, unlike many other films filmed on water, The Bounty was finished under budget.[2] As well as the New Zealand–built Bounty, Lean had also looked at refitting the frigate Rose to play the role of Pandora. The latter has since gone on to become HMS Surprise in Peter Weir's Master and Commander. For the storm sequences a detailed 25-foot model of the Bounty was built.

The film was shot on location in Moorea, French Polynesia, New Zealand and at Greenwich Palace and the Reform Club, Pall Mall, London. Many of the shots of the ship were filmed in Opunohu Bay, Moorea, which is the same bay Captain James Cook anchored in, in 1777.

Gibson described the making of the film as difficult because of the long production time and bad weather: "I went mad. They would hold their breath at night when I went off. One night I had a fight in a bar and the next day they had to shoot only one side of my face because the other was so messed up. If you see the film, you can see the swelling in certain scenes." Anthony Hopkins, who had battled with alcoholism until becoming abstinent in 1975, was worried about Gibson's heavy drinking, saying, "Mel is a wonderful, wonderful fellow with a marvelous future. He's already something of a superstar, but he's in danger of blowing it unless he takes hold of himself." Gibson, who likewise self-identified as an alcoholic, agreed with this concern, and added his admiration for the Welsh actor: "He was terrific. He was good to work with because he was open and he was willing to give. He's a moral man, and you could see this. I think we had the same attitudes."[3]

Differences from earlier versions

The first version, an Australian silent film, The Mutiny of the Bounty, was made in 1916. The second, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) was another Australian production, starring Errol Flynn in his film debut.

The third and most famous version, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starred Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone. The fourth, a remake of the third film, released in 1962, starred Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris.

The most recent film, starring Mel Gibson, is generally regarded as more revisionist as well as a more historically accurate depiction of the mutiny than the two earlier film versions. According to director Donaldson,

"The major difference between our film and the other versions is that none of the others pointed out that Bligh and Christian were friends. They'd made voyages together before they sailed on the Bounty. And while they were on the Bounty, Bligh demoted another officer and promoted Christian, who was at that stage nothing but a midshipman, and made him second in command. What interested me was to explore how their relationship deteriorated from that point to where Christian leads a mutiny against Bligh."[2]

Unlike earlier versions, this film did not portray Bligh as a villainous character. According to Gibson, "It was a kind of fresh look at Captain Bligh, and I think of all the renditions of who Bligh was, his was probably the closest. His Bligh was stubborn and didn't suffer fools, but he was brilliant and just had a lot of bad luck."[4] The Bounty also paints a far less heroic portrait of Christian. In Gibson's description, “Fletcher was just a lad of twenty-two and he behaved like one. The first time he decided to test his horns and fight for the herd, it was a mistake. He shouldn't have done it.” Gibson later expressed the opinion that the film did not go far enough in correcting the historical record.

"I think the main problem with that film was that it tried to be a fresh look at the dynamic of the mutiny situation, but didn't go far enough. In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he'd gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn't quite work."[4]

The film also portrays the sailors exploiting the islanders. Unlike the earlier film versions, the native women are shown (accurately) totally topless. Gibson said, “It was a complete culture shock and it was unbelievable to them. It was paradise in terms of personal freedoms – freedoms that shouldn't have been taken advantage of. They exploited the people, fooled them and didn't tell them the whole truth”.[5] Gibson chose to suddenly erupt in violent emotion during the mutiny scene because eyewitness accounts had described Christian as 'extremely agitated' and 'sweating and crying'.[6]

Historical errors

Advisor Stephan Walters was responsible for much of the film's great attention to historical detail. However, director Roger Donaldson also noted that dramatic licence was taken in the areas where factual evidence is lacking.

  • Admiral Hood is shown presiding at Bligh's court martial for the loss of the Bounty at a location presumably intended to represent the Admiralty building. In reality Hood did preside at the court martial of the alleged mutineers in 1792 but not at Bligh's in 1790. In addition both courts martial were actually held aboard warships at anchor.
  • Australia is mentioned in the dialogue even though it would be more than a decade before Matthew Flinders would promote that name for what was then known as New Holland. However, Bligh also mentions 'New Holland' when discussing how he will proceed after being cast adrift.
  • The Bounty's logbook is shown with the title "H.M.A.V. Bounty, her log" on the front cover and on the first page before Bligh makes an entry dated 23 December 1787, recording the first day at sea. The actual log, now in the State Library of New South Wales, has only 'Bounty's Log' in Bligh's hand on the spine and begins with 'Remarks at Deptford' describing preparations for the voyage with the first daily entry being the initial unsuccessful attempt to leave Spithead on 1 Dec 1787.[7]
  • Bligh's decision to make a second attempt to round Cape Horn and circumnavigate the globe is a fictional plot device serving to trigger the mutiny in the film. The real Bligh had strict orders to take his cargo of breadfruit plants from the Society Islands to Jamaica via the Endeavour Strait, Sunda Strait and Cape of Good Hope, and to embark additional useful plants en route.[8] To attempt the homeward journey via Cape Horn would have endangered the cargo of tropical plants due to the near Antarctic temperatures to be encountered en route.

Critical response

The film received generally favourable reviews, many liking the film for realism and historical accuracy as well as being entertaining. It has received an 81% rating from 16 critical reviews on film aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film a very impressed review, stating, "this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well."[10]

However, others were disappointed with the film, especially given its distinguished cast. Many critics singled out Gibson's performance as bland, particularly when compared to the performances given by Clark Gable and Marlon Brando in two earlier adaptations. Vincent Canby of the New York Times stated, "Both Bligh and Christian are unfinished characters in a screenplay that may or may not have been tampered with... The movie seems to have been planned, written, acted, shot and edited by people who were constantly being over-ruled by other people. It's totally lifeless.[11]

The film was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.[12]

See also


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External links

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