Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
I’ve mentioned my love for a good movie speech before. So it was only a matter of time before we got to Elizabeth Swann’s speech at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Take a look:
There are a lot of things that are required for a good speech. It has to be well timed within the film and it has to be of the right duration relative to the quality of its content. It needs to be written in a way that doesn’t feel out of place within the situation in which it’s delivered. It has to be well delivered of course, capturing the drama of the moment without overdoing it. The directing and editing are important, as is the music used to accompany the speech. As such, while it might seem easy to put together a good film speech, in actuality it’s considerably more difficult.
There’s a lot I love about Elizabeth’s speech, though most of them are fairly obvious. I think Keira Knightley does a fantastic job with her delivery. She’s tough and emotional without ever going over the top. I love the way her voice cracks in an attempt to get the volume one would need to rally the pirates over the sound of the wind and the waves. She manages to capture the poetry behind the Romanticized view of pirates that she has, without losing sight of the overwhelming odds they’re facing. And the manic glint in her eyes as she screams “Hoist the Colours” at the rest of the Brethren ships is perfect.
There’s the music, too, which I consider the highlight of Hans Zimmer’s score for the trilogy. “Hoist the Colours” lyrically tells the story of the Brethren’s imprisonment of Calypso, while serving as a rallying call for the court and for pirates in general. It’s one of those melodies that can serve equally well as a shanty to be sung in a tavern, as a rousing chorus during a stirring speech, or as an accompaniment to swashbuckling action. Throwing in a choral component to the score as the pirate colors are hoisted throughout the brethren fleet is a great touch.
But what I really love about this speech is how well it ties everything together. To understand, you have to go back to the Brethren court scene, when Elizabeth first reveals herself a captain and successor to Sao Feng. During the meeting, Barbossa tells of his plans to release Calypso from her human bonds, both so that she can defeat their enemies and in order to repay the debt of being resurrected by her. During the speech, he has a line which says “Better were the days when mastery of seas came not from bargains struck with eldritch creatures… but from the sweat of a man’s brow and the strength of his back alone. You all know this to be true.” Elizabeth gives him an interesting look during this moment, as though she’s seeing Barbossa for the first time, or perhaps finally understanding him as more than an untrustworthy villain.
Later, after successfully negotiating for the swap of Jack and Will in one of my favorite scenes, she attempts to prepare the ship for battle but is stopped by Barbossa. He’s determined to free her, in part because, “Too long my fate has not been in me own hands.” He thinks the plan has failed and loses all hope. When Will, Gibbs and Elizabeth return their thoughts to battle, Barbossa responds, “Revenge won’t bring your father back, Miss Swan, and it’s not something I’m intending to die for.” She replies, “You’re right. Then what shall we die for?” before launching her speech.
You will listen to me. Listen! The Brethren will still be looking here to us, to the Black Pearl to lead. And what will they see? Frightened bilge rats aboard a derelict ship? No. No, they will see free men and freedom! And what the enemy will see is the flash of our cannons. They will hear the ring of our swords and they will know what we can do. By the sweat of our brows, and the strength of our backs and the courage of our hearts. Gentlemen, hoist the colours!
When she says “and the strength of our backs” she looks right at Barbossa. And at that point we realize that the speech is for him more than it is for anyone else. She’s fought both against him and by his side and she knows that they need him in the battle in order to have any chance, even a “fool’s chance”. It’s the sign of a great leader that she’s able to read the people around her and give them what they need in order for them to serve their purpose.
Later when she tells him, “Captain Barbossa, we need you at the helm,” he’s ready to answer that call, and that is entirely because of this speech. And of course, when she wants to be married, he’s willing to return the favor and give her and Will what they need. Elizabeth gets a lot of crap online as a character, for being written in a way that intends her to be a “strong female character” but who isn’t really that strong. But it’s in moments like these that we see what a capable leader she can be, not only strong but just as clever and quick thinking as the male characters in the series, without a lot of their short-sightedness.
There are a lot of other moments to love about the speech. I love that it never feels as if it were filmed on a soundstage. It doesn’t feel especially polished, and she doesn’t deliver the speech as though she were in a recording booth (even if she may have been for ADR purposes). She shouts until she sounds almost hoarse and the wind is constantly blowing her hair in her face, but she looks comfortable as though it’s where she truly belongs. I love that Gibbs is smart enough to chime in with some words of encouragement (“The wind’s on our side boys, that’s all we need!”), just as he does for Jack over and over again throughout the trilogy, including just a few scenes previously where he gives Jack’s “fight to run away” speech a boost from the crowd. There’s the fact that the pirate flags all resemble various real life pirate flags from history. And of course, there’s the montage of hoisting flags and the ending of the scene with Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth at the helm of the Black Pearl, finally ready to fight.
I don’t know that this speech would be my all time favorite, as my favorite is usually whichever speech I’ve seen most recently, but it would definitely be near the top of a very long list of speeches I love. In fact, the vanity license plate I chose for my car was inspired by this speech and its significance to the film trilogy. It’s a key part of a series that I find fascinating and immensely entertaining, and whenever At World’s End is on TV (which is often), I will refuse to switch the channel until I’ve seen it.
(A quick aside about the TV version of the film: I was shocked when watching it over the weekend to see that they completely cut out the scene between Calypso and Davy Jones, ruining that subplot but making the Brethren Court sequence continuous. I’m often surprised by what gets cut “in order for the film to fit into the time allotted”, but this one seemed particularly egregious.)
What do you think? Are you a fan of Elizabeth’s speech? Where does it rank among your top movie speeches? Is there a better section of music in the films than in this scene? Let me know in the comments!