Captain James Cook (1987) (mini)




Director:  Lawrence Gordon Clark. 

Starring:  Keith Michell (Capt. James Cook), John Gregg (Joseph Banks), Erich Hallhuber (Lt. John Gore), Jacques Penot (Cmdr. Charles Clarke), Barry Quin (Lt. Zachariah Hicks), Steven Grives (Sgt. Samuel Gibson), Carol Drinkwater (Mrs. Elizabeth Cook), Fernando Rey (Adm. Sir Edward Hawke), Xabier Elorriaga (Lord Johnny Sandwich), Udo Vioff (Johann Reinhold Forster), Noel Trevarthen (Adm. Sir Hugh Palliser), David Whitney (William Bligh), Louise Kimitete (Queen Oberea).

1770 voyage discovers east coast of Australia.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire mini-series. 



Chapter 1. 

Natives warriors threaten Captain Cook and his small group of men on one of the islands of Hawaii.

Lincolnshire, England. Ten years earlier. Nobleman Joseph Banks (a botanist who would later run the Kew Botanical Gardens in London) discusses the idea of making a ship voyage to collect new plants. The last vast available area for new explorations is the area around where what is now known as Australia is located.

Sir Edward Hawk, First Lord of the Admiralty, discusses the possibility of Mr. Cook being the captain of an expedition to the south Pacific. Cook had surveyed the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland. But on the negative side, the Naval Board turned him down for a commissioned rank three times. The problem is that Cook is not of the nobility. Hawk asks Cook if this rejection had discouraged him. The expert navigator responds that it makes him angry – angry that he has no rich friends to further his course. His father was a farm laborer.

Lord Sandwich, a rival to replace Sir Edward Hawk, disagrees with Cook’s idea that the ship he needs is a cargo carrier, a coal carrier, so that he can get up close to the coasts in order to survey the coastlines. Showing class bias, Lord Sandwich remarks: "Mr. Cook is not even an officer!" But Sir Edward will not let class bias dissuade him from taking Cook as the commander of the expedition.

The stated purpose of the expedition is to measure the transit of the planet Venus. The real reason is to find new lands that can be claimed for Great Britain.

A rival to Cook is Mr. Dalrymple who wants to lead the expedition on a 50-gun man-of-war ship. When he receives the news that not he but Cook will be the leader of the expedition, he demands an explanation from Sir Edward. The reason is that Dalrymple is simply not a seaman. This makes Dalrymple very mad.

Cook is promoted to first lieutenant and takes command of the coal carrier named Endeavor. Two of Cook’s officers are Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gore, an American from Boston. Joseph Banks goes along on the expedition. Cook tells his officers that they must make sure that the men eat the sour kraut in order to prevent scurvy. Since they do not have a full crew, Cook has to take fourteen prisoners. He also takes a fourteen-year old boy, Nicholas Young, with him.

Cook’s wife is pregnant. She hates to see her husband leave.

Cook foresees that Banks is going to be a problem. How right he was. Banks brings two greyhounds with him and lots and lots of baggage. The officers have to live in smaller quarters so that Banks and his illustrators can have more luxurious quarters and space to do their work. Also with Banks is a botanist from Sweden, Dr. Solander.

They head for Tahiti to record the transit of Venus. On the way Banks becomes very ill from sea sickness. A man is given twelve lashes for mutinous behavior. He did not eat his lot of fresh meat to help prevent scurvy. Banks thinks the punishment too severe. Cook has ore trouble when Banks and his men take over the great cabin, the traditional refuge of the captain and his officers.

The new baby is born to Mrs. Cook, but dies at only one week of age.

Tierra del Fuego. Cook is angry at being delayed by Banks and his men out "picking flowers". Banks and his men get lost and the servants get separated from the main group. The next morning Banks finds the servants frozen to death. Back aboard ship, Cook talks with Banks and they both agree that they have to work together and cooperate with each other.

The ship rounds the Horn. A terrible storm comes up and Banks is very sick again. Cook stops a group of marine from beating up another marine. Cook says he will punish the man later. The marine, however, ways himself down with chains and jumps into the sea. This is very upsetting to Cook because he feels guilty because the man killed himself rather than face punishment from the captain of the vessel.

Tahiti. The natives come out to greet the ship and its crew. The men are very happy to see the semi-nude women.

April 13, 1769. It has been eight months away from home. There have only been four deaths, three of them by accident. Mr. Gore, who knows the native language, goes inland first. He is welcomed.  In charge is Queen Oberea.  When Queen Oberea sees Cook she takes an immediate liking to him.  The crew starts going off to have sex with the openly sexual Tahitian women.  At a formal dance, the Tahitians pick pocket a lot of items from the crew.  The Queen gives Banks two girls. 

A crewman is flogged for cutting a woman's hand and threatening to slit her throat.  This upsets the woman and she cries at the flogging.  They stop the punishment long enough to take the Tahitians back to shore. 

The ship's surgeon fights with Banks over the two women.  One of the marines kills a fleeing native after another man steals a rifle.  No action is taken against the man, Wilkinson.  Cook tells Gore to tell the natives to stop thieving from the crew.  Now, the natives are more hostile.  The chief asks for peace:  "no kill more children".  The surgeon taunts Banks when he tells the nobleman that "venereal distemper" has gotten ten of the crew.  The natives steal the quadrant necessary in the observation of the transit of Venus.  Cook knows he must have this quadrant back no matter what.  So he has the Queen (along with her three lovers) taken hostage.  A complete search of the island is begun. 

Chapter 2. 

Banks and Gore are able to get back all the pieces of the quadrant from the natives in the interior.  The quadrant is put together just in time, but the men discover that the timing differs.  Cook remarks that they have come so far for a mistake. 

The native Tuppai wants to go to England with the ship. Banks says he will take charge of the young man.  Gore's woman is very angry that he is leaving the island.  She wants him to stay, but he tries to explain that he simply cannot stay.  Two marines, Gibson and Webb, desert.  The desertion is discovered and a search of the island is made.  Cook takes the Queen hostage again.  This time the Queen is very angry because, as she says, the natives did not steal the two marines.  The two marines are caught and taken back to the ship.  Cook tells Gibson that he has been nothing but trouble from the beginning of the voyage.  Gibson explains that he never wanted to go to see.  He was press-ganged into the marines. 

Cook opens his sealed orders.  He is to head south to survey the southern Pacific and try to find the unknown location of the hypothesized existence of the south continent.  Cook is to take possession of this Great South Land in the name of King George III.  Cook searches and searches for the land but becomes frustrated:  "It does not appear to exist."  They head for New Zealand. 

New Zealand, 1769.  The crew is accosted many times by the natives of New Zealand.  Cook denies Banks request to head the ship into a fjord, which makes Banks very angry.  But Cook insists he will not risk the ship for a few more plants. 

The ship heads west on its return voyage.  Some of Banks's men are upset when they learn that it will be another year before they reach England.  Cook is frustrated.  He says that there is no South Land, that it is all wasted time and the entire expedition has been a "damn" failure.  Lt. Hicks is very sick.  He is ordered to rest.  While lounging around on deck, Hicks is the first to see land ahead.  They believe the land is part of New Holland. 

Australia, 1770.  The Tahitian native Tuppai cannot communicate with the natives of this new land.  They speak another language entirely.  The natives want nothing to do with the white men.  They throw an offered bead necklace on the sand of the beach.  Cook decides to name the bay Botanist Bay because of all the activities connected with Banks and his men.   The men narrowly avoid a violent confrontation with the natives thanks largely to Gibson's observations of the attitudes of the Aborigines.  Gibson explains  that the natives were mad because the crew had caught far too many fish to eat them all.  Cook feels indebted to Gibson and now the men become friendly with each other.  Cook claims Australia for King George III. 

Back home, Cook's four-year old daughter dies.  Sir Edward visits with Cook's wife to check on how she is doing. 

At sea, the ship gets stuck on a coral reef.  The ship is endanger of sinking, but fortunately a big piece of coral was still stuck in the hole created by the collision.  After jettisoning a lot of equipment, the men are finally able to free the craft and the voyage continues. 

Sir Edward speaks with Dalrymple and complains that the man has been engaging in flagrant speculation and in spreading the rumor that Cook and his ship have been lost.  Dalrymple is unrepentant.   

Cook has a slow go of it.  They have to get away from the coral reefs and to clear water for clear sailing.  It is a great relief when they finally get out of the coral zone. 

The ship sails to Dutch Batavia.  Only a Dutch crew is allowed to make the ship repairs in the dry docks.  And they charge a very high price for the repairs.  Moreover, the repairs proceed very slowly.  While the men wait, they start coming down with malaria and dysentery.  And the crew starts dying.  The ship's surgeon dies.  Astronomer Charles Green and seven of the crew die.  The Tahitian Tuppai dies. 

The ship is finally ready and Cook sets sail.  Lt. Hicks dies of consumption.  Other members of the crew die.  Cook now only has twelve men fit to work the ship.  The young boy Nicholas Young dies. 

Back home in England Cook learns that he not only lost the new baby, but that his four-year old daughter has also died.   He visits her grave.  They were away for two years and eleven months.  Lord Sandwich is not the First Lord of the Admiralty. 

Chapter 3. 

Dalrymple wants Cook censored for losing half his crew and for not finding the South Land.  George III praises Banks.  Over 1,000 species of plants have been discovered.  A new expedition will be made, this time with two ships.  Sir Edward feels that Cook has been shabbily treated and Banks has gotten most of the praise.  Cook has been promoted, but only to commander, not captain. 

Lord Sandwich wants Cook to be in charge of the new expedition.  Banks will also be going again.  The two ships are coal carriers, one named the Resolution and the other Adventure.  But Banks selfishly declares that he will not sail with the expedition and will withdraw his men and money from the expedition unless many modifications are made to the ship on which he will sail.  Lord Sandwich has to negotiate with Cook and Banks.  Cook agrees to the modifications.  Banks is happy and starts in on way too many additions to the ship.  As a result, the ship is deemed not seaworthy.  Banks rightly complains to Cook that the commander had deliberately made a fool of him because he knew that the modifications would not pass the final test. 

Banks demands that Lord Sandwich fire Cook and put him (Banks) in charge of the two ships.  Lord Sandwich sides with Cook and Banks refuses to go on the voyage.  But the new botanist for the expedition is not much better.  His name is Reinholt Foster and he is a many who loves to complain and whine.  The ships head so far south that the decks and rigging become very icy.  Cook loses sight of the other ship.  The officers ask Cook if he is sick, but the commander rejects the very idea. 

New Zealand, 1773.  Queen Charlotte's Sound.  As Cook expected, the two expedition ships reunite.  When they are back at sea Cook learns that the other captain has twenty of his men down with scurvy.  Cook is extremely angry with him and tells him that he must make his men eat the necessary food to avoid scurvy.  Now he has to change course to find land. 

Banks visits Mrs. Cook to make amends.  He is sorry he is not on the expedition. 

Tahiti.  Queen Oberea has been deposed.  Foster is upset at the crews "disgusting" conduct with the native women. 

Shortly after leaving Tahiti, the other ship gets separated from Cook's ship once again. 

England, 1774.  Banks speaks with Lt. Gore.  The lieutenant complains that he, being an American is these trouble times with the thirteen colonies, has been having a rough time being promoted in the British navy.  Banks has chartered a brig to Iceland and Lt. Gore is delighted to accept his offer to sail with the ship. 

New Zealand.  Cook is back at Queen Charlotte's Sound.  Now they are once again heading to the Polar regions.  Cook's job is to get as close as possible to the South Pole in order to survey it.  On this journey he becomes so sick that he is close to dying.  The usually whining Foster makes a big personal sacrifice for Cook by offering his dog as fresh meat for the commander.  No one tells Cook from where came the meat for the broth he drinks.  Cook recovers.  He learns about the dog when he asks Foster where is his dog.  Foster responds:  "Your life was more important."

Soon it will be the crew's third Christmas at sea. 

January 1, 1775.  Cook makes his third and final sweep of the south Pacific area.  He then heads back home. The ship was away from three years and eighteen days.  He has completed his second circumnavigation of the globe, while losing only one man to sickness.  He is elected a fellow of the Royal Society, much to the disappointment of Dalrymple.  Cook sees George III and is highly praised. 

Cook told his wife that his second voyage would be his last.  He agrees to retire.  He feels that he most secure his wife's future to prevent her poverty if anything happens to him.  Cook is made the captain of the Royal Greenwich Hospital.  Now he has a fine apartment and servants. 

The talk is of the new search for the Northwest Passage.  Lord Sandwich wants Cook again.  He knows Cook is the only man who can make the voyage.  Lord Sandwich meets with Cook and, under the pretext of asking his advice for the upcoming expedition, lets Cook know that there is no other man except Cook qualified to lead the expedition.  Cook asks the Sea Lord if he wants him (Cook) to take the position.  The arrangement is made for Cook to lead the expedition. 

Cook is afraid to tell his wife about the new voyage.  He keeps putting it off until his wife confronts him:  "Am I the last to know?"  She is furious with him.  He explains that he tried to tell her, but could not.  He tells her:  "I am afraid that nothing will last.  That history will find me lacking.  That fame is just an illusion."  He adds that he has only done negative things, like proving that certain lands did not exist.  He feels that finding the Northwest Passage will seal his fame. 

Chapter 4. 

William Bligh (later famous for the Mutiny on the Bounty) is the new ship's master.  He is only twenty-one years of age but is known as a good navigator.  Cook is very glad to be sailing with officers Gore and Clarke, but before they can sail Clarke is arrested.  His brother failed to pay his debts and Clarke is now arrested for not paying his brother's debts.  (He had signed a document backing the loan to his brother.)  Cook refuses to sail without Clarke, but Lord Sandwich explains that even his influence will not safe Clarke. 

The new ship is the Resolution.   Bligh discovers that much of the repair works has been shoddy and incomplete.  He complains (without success) to the foreman about the corruption in the shipyards that permits such shoddy workmanship. 

Cook finally realizes that he has to sail without Clarke.  He pays a visit to the young officer in prison and tells him to join the expedition at the Cape.  Cook says good-bye to his wife, but she still is angry with him. 

July 6, 1776.  Cook runs into some rough weather.  He thinks it's a poor start for a long voyage.  The ship is leaking like a sieve.  Cook says that the London shipyards have been less than honest.  He blames himself because he was too busy being lionized.  Simply put, the ship is unfit for what lies ahead.  The warning comes "breakers ahead!"  Cook is getting a bad feeling about the voyage. 

Cook's 700-paged, two volume set is published to great praise.  Even Boswell and Dr. Johnson commended him.  Mrs. Cook is happy to hear this, but she gives the sea lord a severe tongue-lashing for having her tired husband lead the expedition. 

Capetown, South Africa, 1776.  The ship is put in for repairs.  Clarke rejoins the expedition.  Cook asks him if he has brought a letter from his wife, but the answer is no.  Cook makes the decision to winter at Tahiti.  On the island officer Gore sees his Tahitian love and discovers that he has a son by her.  Clarke is diagnosed with consumption (probably caught in the cold prison cells). 

The natives steal a goat and Cook goes ballistic.  He tells his officers that they will burn their canoes if they don't return the goat by noon, then their houses, then the whole island.  But as soon as they land, Cook and his crew starts burning the canoes and the houses immediately.  Lt. Gore is upset by the action.  His Tahitian girlfriend tells him to go away.  Later that night the goat is returned.  Cook comments:  "Well, we've won." 

Alaskan coast 1778.  The ship is back in the cold and Clarke suffers accordingly.  A bad storm comes up.  The hull has many leaks.  Cook and his officers talk to a Russian who speaks of large open water and the Englishmen interpret this as a possible gulf or channel.   But they continue to search with no result.  Cook realizes that winter is coming on and that they have to go south.  "We won't find the passage this year."  The ship leaks all the time and they need to repair the ship.  So to Hawaii they sail.  They are met by the villagers.  The villagers seem to believe that Cook is some kind of god.  Clarke says that the whole situation makes him uneasy and urges Cook to find somewhere else to repair the boat. 

After three weeks, Cook and company have overstayed their welcome.  They receive an invitation to go.  So Cook sails off.  The main top sail is put out of commission during a bad storm.  Cook curses the London shipyards.  They need timber for a new top mast.  Cook decides to return to the same anchorage.  Blight think it is a bad idea to return to the same village.  Gore urges Cook to search for another place. But Cook insists they will return from whence they came. 

This time they are not greeted by happy natives.  The shores are deserted.  Cook meets with the chief and tells him that their stay will be short.  Natives surround the ship's long boat.  They start throwing rocks at them, but they are able to get away from them.  On board Gore tells Cook that he is afraid, because the natives have decided that Cook is not a god.  Gore tells Cook that the priests believe that Cook made them look foolish because a god would not have returned as Cook did.  Now the priests want to prove he is mortal by harming him.   

Cook says that they will take all possible precautions.  He sends the marines in to protect the work parties.  The natives attack the work crews and they have to flee back to the ship.  At night the natives steal the long boat.  Cook decides to take the king as hostage.  Gore suggests that they cannonade the village, but Cook doesn't want a lot of natives killed.  Cook takes a squad of marines and goes to the chief to take him hostage.  Cook is warned that the children have been taken away and warriors from other villages are pouring into this coastal village. 

Cook and the marines march the king to the coast.  But he is followed by almost everyone left in the village.  The natives become more and more agitated.  Cook tells the marines to get back on the boat without the king.  The natives start throwing spears at the marines killing a few.  Gibson is hit in the left shoulder.  Cook is the last man on shore and he is soon knocked down and then repeatedly speared by the natives. 

Back home in England Joseph Banks praises Cook in his eulogy. 

The Resolution returned home the following year, 1780, with John Gore in command.  Clarke died of tuberculosis just four months after the death of Cook.  Cook's wife lived until the age of 93 and died in 1835. 

Good movie.  It presents an honest picture of the class divisions in Great Britain and their deleterious effects on the chances of a poor man rising to the officer rank.  Cook was a man obsessed with fame and to get fame he made three long voyages, the last after he was retired from the navy and much against the wishes of his wife.  He may have been great in his first two voyages, but his commons sense seemed to leave him after two years into his third voyage.  He decided to use his Tahitian strategy against the Hawaiians, a much more war-like people.  Cook tried to take the king hostage as he had taken the Tahitian queen hostage, but the Hawaiian response was to kill Cook in contrast to the peaceful response of the Tahitian natives.  Keith Michell was great as Captain James Cook. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.   


Historical Background:


1770  --  voyage discovers east coast of Australia. 

1772-1775  --  the second voyage. 

He discovered South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. 

1774  -- on his return voyage, he landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

1776-1779  --  third voyage.


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