Film Review: The Bounty

Posted: 7th August 2014 | Written by: Scott Payne

bounty cover2

In 1787, The Bounty, a small merchant vessel purchased by the Royal Navy, set sail on a botanical mission.

The task was to procure breadfruit pods from Tahiti and transport them to the West Indies in the hope that they would provide a cost effective food source for the slaves.

So begins the tale of treachery aboard The Bounty.

Based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr.Christian by maritime historian Richard Hough, this 1984 picture is considered by many to be the definitive version of the story.

Starring Anthony Hopkins in an amazing turn as Lieutenant William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Master's Mate Fletcher Christian, the film treats its characters a little differently than in previous versions.

gibson and hopkins

Rather than the tyrannical monster of past portrayals, Bligh is pictured as a by-the-book British Naval Officer who does not suffer fools gladly, relying on traditional methods for both punishment and reward (the latter being used very sparingly). Christian's portrayal here is also much more fleshed-out than in earlier renditions, touching on his earlier friendship with Bligh, his heartbreak at leaving his wife in Tahiti and his postion of leadership when the mutinous deeds began.

The crew of the Bounty are also are given a healthy screen presence. Some artistic license has been taken here however, with the crew's disgruntlement at having to leave their Tahitian paradise given as the reason they revolt. In previous incarnations the crew always came across with a certain air of nobility, but here they truly are the saltiest of sea dogs.


The Bounty was originally planned as two films by the wonderful team of Director David Lean and Robert Bolt. Unfortunately Bolt suffered a major stroke and was unable to continue his writing duties, which led to Lean also stepping down at the last minute, believing that without Bolt the picture simply wouldn't 'sail'. Producer Dino De Laurentiis was not prepared to loose the veritable treasure chest of money that had already been sunk into the project, so he passed the directing duties to Roger Donaldson, a friend of Mel Gibson's and a fellow antipodean.  This would mark Donaldson's first big production; he would later go on to work with stars such as Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan and Al Pacino.

Hopkins & Gibson both give stellar performances, but one of the true stars was the lovingly crafted replica of the Bounty, which cost a whopping $4million, a far cry from the £2000 it cost to build back in 1784.  Every inch of the ship looks weathered and ravaged and it is a masterpiece in itself.

bounty at sea

Perhaps Bligh's own eloquent words regarding the original Bounty will go some way to explaining, "The Burthen of the Ship was nearly 215 Tons; Her extreme length on deck 90Ft..10In. & breadth from outside to outside of the bends 24Ft..3 in. A Flush deck & a pretty Figure Head of a Woman in Riding habit; She mounted 4 four pounders & 10 Swivels". 

Admittedly when I first saw The Bounty I was all of 10 years old, and to me it was all about the ship and very little else.  It's only now watching it as an adult that the magnitude of what life must have been like during that voyage sinks in. Bligh's need to do the best he could for his country, and Christian's own need to do right by his fellow sailors both come across extremely well in this version. In my opinion neither party are painted as the villain, rather as just men who felt obligated to do what needed to be done.


If you're familiar with the story you will not be disappointed with this film, while if you are altogether new to it you're in for a cinematic treat. One of the things that makes this film special is that it's as accessible to scholars as it is to laymen.

This underrated gem of a film celebrated its 30th birthday this year, and I advise you to batten down the hatches, splice the main brace and prepare to set sail on The Bounty. You will not regret the journey.

Scott Payne is one of the four founders of I Actually Quite Liked It, a fortnightly podcast for people who love comic books, movies and video games, but mainly for people who like laughing at their friends.

Being a horror nerd, Scott cites The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as his favourite movie and dreams one day of reuniting the surviving cast for a one of special of Come Dine With Me using the cast of Made in Chelsea as ingredients. He once got naked on live radio and blagged a trip to L.A using only the power of his mind, a stuffed monkey and a Spider-Man costume.

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