Tag Archives: History in the Movies

Superior Performances-Captain William Bligh and the Bounty

by Rick Bretz

There are at least two sides to every story, if not more. In the case of the HMS Bounty and the mutiny adventure, several different accounts can be put together to find the truth. One side is Captain William Bligh’s, another is Fletcher Christian’s, another is the Royal Naval Leadership’s, another is the Bounty’s crew’s, and still another would be the native islanders’. With any good story and book, there follows a movie.

A celluloid figure interpreted often over the past several decades is Capt. William Bligh, the leader of the HMS Bounty. Here are the performances that depict the Captain.


Charles Laughton just looks mean as Captain Bligh.  He doesn't even have to say a word.
Charles Laughton just looks mean as Captain Bligh. He doesn’t even have to say a word.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Charles Laughton as Captain William Bligh

Played against Clark Gable as 1st LT. Fletcher Christian

Charles Laughton played Captain Bligh as a tyrant and cruel skipper of the Bounty. You can’t find any humanity in his performance much less a modicum of mercy. Laughton’s acting ability makes you cheer when Gable takes over the Bounty and sets Laughton sail in the lifeboat.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Trevor Howard as Captain William Bligh

Played against Marlon Brando as 1st LT. Fletcher Christian

Trevor Howard’s performance gives movie goers a business like performance to the role. He toned down the maliciousness of Captain Bligh and presented the idea that his leadership style had to be tough to keep control of the Bounty’s tough crew. He also gets points for putting up with his co-star. Historical accounts indicate how difficult Marlon Brando was during the making of the movie in Tahiti.


The Bounty (1984)

Anthony Hopkins as Captain William Bligh

Played against Mel Gibson as 1st LT Fletcher Christian

Anthony Hopkins’ performance portrayed thoughts and emotions boiling just underneath the surface with some of them reaching the tipping point and others staying hidden. As with all his roles, he can seemingly show several emotions and thoughts behind his facial expressions without saying much. Of the three actors on this list, his performance came closest to making the audience understand his point of view if not completely sympathizing with his plight.

Portrait of the real Captain Bligh
Portrait of the real Captain Bligh


The Real Person

We all know that Hollywood liberally applies artistic license to historical events and to the people who become vital figures during these episodes. In this case, the actors and the screen writers needed a villain and he, Capt. Bligh, was it. A closer look shows that Bligh was a superb seaman and may not have been as nasty and evil as the movie portrayals.

After the mutiny, Bligh went on to have a stellar career and was promoted several times, attaining the Vice Admiral of the Blue rank in 1814. Not long after the mutiny, Bligh returned to Tahiti to get Bread Fruit Trees and to take them to the West Indies without incident. He commanded several ships afterward including the HMS Glatton in 1801 during the Battle of Copenhagen, receiving a commendation for bravery from Admiral Nelson.

HMS Bounty built for the 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. The ship was destroyed during  Hurricane Sandy storm.
HMS Bounty built for the 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. The ship was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy storm.


Most movies need a hero and an adversary. The worse the adversary the better the movie. A commanding and controlling Bligh fit this mold perfectly while LT. Christian and the crew were perfect as the flawed heroes. Captain Bligh followed established rules and procedures set by the British Royal Navy Leadership in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He saved himself and the other crew members that were with him on the life boat by using his navigational skills to get to the nearest port. It was an incident in history where circumstances met with the right personalities to produce an anomaly in British history.

As far as my favorite performance of the three, I like Anthony Hopkins’ version. You can tell there are more ideas and emotions working inside his brain. If you want to root for Fletcher Christian and his mutinous crew, then I pick Laughton’s performance. If you want more information on the real Mutiny on the Bounty story, check some of the links below.


Notable Links:








Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion