Released in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, directed by Gore Verbinski, brought the famous Disney Parks ride to life and kick-started a franchise that would go on to create a series of five films and garner $4.5 billion in profits. Many factors went into what made the films so successful, including the compelling characters like Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner. But what really captivated the audience’s attention throughout the films was Johnny Depp’s standout portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow—which, according to pirate expert Iszi Lawrence, is historically accurate to mid-18th-century pirates.
As seen in the video above, Lawrence analyzed the first Pirates of the Caribbean film for its historical accuracy in a video on History Hit’s YouTube channel. As a pirate expert, Lawrence pointed out what was and was not historically accurate in the film, teasing that Geoffery Rush’s Captain Barbosa being unable to feel pain while undead isn’t entirely realistic.
Pirate expert Iszi Lawrence says that Johnny Depp‘s portrayal of Jack Sparrow is exactly like real-life pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.
However, Lawrence pointed out several instances where Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow would have been exactly like a pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy.
Starting from the beginning of the film, Lawrence pointed out that Johnny Depp’s line, “But you have heard of me,” in response to Norrington saying that Jack is the worst pirate he’s ever heard of, epitomizes the reputation that pirates sought. Reputation was everything to Golden Age pirates, who hoped to be feared before any confrontation. However, the branded P on Jack’s wrist was not accurate as pirates weren’t actually branded.
Pirates of the Caribbean’s Inaccuracies
There were other historical inaccuracies throughout the film as things were adjusted for cinematic effect. For instance, the cuffs placed on Jack’s wrists when he is arrested are leg irons and offer too much use of his arms and hands. However, it’s because of this range of motion that Johnny Depp is able to perform the stunts for Jack’s exciting escape.
Other historical inaccuracies have less to do with Johnny Depp’s character and more to do with the actual world-building of the film. The film’s emphasis on a universal pirate code and parley is another inaccuracy pointed out by Lawrence. While pirates indeed followed codes, each ship had its own set of rules, and a universal code shared by all pirates was not a reality.
Additionally, a monkey on Captain Barbossa’s ship isn’t accurate. While the French introduced monkeys to the Caribbean as fashionable pets, keeping them on board ships proved impractical due to their high water needs. A parrot would have been a more likely companion for a pirate crew.
Despite these historical inaccuracies, Lawrence acknowledges that Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow aligns well with the perception of pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy (approximately 1715-1722). Pirates were seen as rebellious, daring, and alluring figures who challenged societal norms. Their boldness and freedom were envied by many, making them the rock stars of their time.
Reputation was everything to Golden Age pirates, who hoped to be feared before any confrontation.
The success of The Curse of the Black Pearl was initially unexpected, considering its origin as a movie based on a theme park attraction. However, Johnny Depp’s brilliant performance as Captain Jack Sparrow and the introduction of more grounded characters like Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) brought humor and an emotional core to the film, making it an instant hit.
The Pirates franchise developed a devoted fan base who were committed to returning to the theaters as often as a Pirates movie was released, even as the subsequent films went down in quality from the original trilogy.
However, after Johnny Depp was fired by Disney prior to his legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard, any hope for future Pirates of the Caribbean films featuring Jack Sparrow went overboard.
Even though there have been rumors that Disney would be willing to work with Johnny Depp again, Depp has sworn off returning to Disney and claimed that he is done with Hollywood.
While this sadly means we likely won’t ever see Jack Sparrow return to the screen again, at least we will always have The Curse of the Black Pearl, which we now know is a historically accurate piece of cinema, at least when it came to Captain Jack’s character.