In April 1789, Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty was cut loose on the Pacific with 18 of his men. There had been a mutiny. Over six weeks, they navigated 4,000 miles of ocean in a wooden boat before making land at Timor.
“Now,” announced the sonorous voiceover for Mutiny (Channel 4), “for the first time, nine men are following the same route in an identical boat, facing the same conditions.” In setting up the five-part series, such portentous claptrap underlined its innate pointlessness. Thankfully, Mutiny was also great, sadistically entertaining fun.
This, despite being an intriguing idea, was hampered by uncertain execution. Quartermaster Rishi insisted that this wasn’t a holiday. So what, then, was it?
Not a history documentary, although there were reconstructions and quotes from Bligh; nor is it quite a Bear Grylls-style survival show, because their route is predetermined. It’s closest to reality TV, except with tasks constant and gruelling, and without diary room or indeed any privacy; both loo breaks and hushed confessions to camera were witnessed and overheard by shipmates.
Certainly, the participants settled very quickly into familiar tropes. SAS: Who Dares Wins veteran Ant Middleton was the firm-but-fair skipper; ship’s surgeon Luke, the one with inappropriate fears (in his case, sharks and sunburn); and helmsman Chris, the hate figure (“don’t speak to me like I’m a kid… don’t tell me not to be me… my job title is sailor/adventurer”). This sailor/adventurer, having ignored warnings about diving off rocks into choppy waters, duly sustained a cut that became infected. After the obligatory falling out, reconciliation was as essential as it was inevitable.
As the waves broiled and the rations dwindled, the perils seemed real enough; one of the crew even acquired “trench-hand”, giving his flesh the sort of pallor redolent of a zombie from a 1970s Hammer horror. Indeed, once Mutiny has settled on what it wants to be – and tomorrow’s second episode will be pivotal here – we could have a ghoulish treat on our hands.