Everyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl remembers the iconic opening moments where the little girl version of Elizabeth Swann sings on the prow of the ship a song that romanticizes pirates. Then, out of the fog looms up the imposing Captain Norrington, who smirks and says most pirates end with “a short drop and a sudden stop.” Seated in the middle of the theater, with my feet propped up and a bucket of popcorn in my lap, I laughed and thought, “I like this guy.”
And that “liking” never went away, even though the film clearly wanted me to like William Turner more… or even Jack Sparrow. There is no outshining Johnny Depp as Captain Sparrow, a role that deserved an Oscar if the Academy weren’t such a bunch of stuck up twits who couldn’t admit that a comedic role has as much cinematic artistic value as a dramatic one. Will is the ‘moral mouthpiece’ of the story—a polite but angry and stubborn man who always does the right thing. And sometimes not, but only if it’s for Elizabeth. Jack is the “amoral” character, who actually always does the right thing… despite all his protestations otherwise. Sacrifice myself for the greater good? Well, if I must. Elizabeth is the fierce, opinionated bad-ass heroine who didn’t want to wear a corset (a popular trope) and wanted to be with Will. And then… there is James Norrington.
I assumed Disney would go the usual route of having her fiancé be an insufferable bore or even more predictably, a controlling jerk. Imagine my surprise to find Commodore a complete gentleman, shy and sensitive around women since he doesn’t know what to say, and willing to bend the rules for a ‘greater cause’ when Elizabeth points out that it’s wrong to hang Jack Sparrow. But more than that, I liked him because he wasn’t stupid. Jack didn’t pull things over on him, because Norrington knew to be suspicious of him and his motives. He knew better than to trust the word of a pirate. I like men who aren’t easily fooled, and Norrington wasn’t. He also graciously gave up the woman he loved, when she preferred another man to him. There was no fight to the death, just acceptance of her heart’s desires and the willingness to stand aside, which I like in a man. It shows his strength of character.
The second film took a bit of a detour in his personality (an overall decrease in the quality of storytelling, if you ask me) … because a stuffy British aristocrat isn’t as fun as having Norrington turn up covered in pig crap, with a moody attitude about having lost his commission and his respect. My beautiful Norrington turns into a total mess and an opportunist, who STILL manages to get one over on Jack Sparrow when he makes off with Davey Jones’ heart. (Did I love it that he technically won that round? Why yes I did.) But one thing remains the same: his sarcasm. My boy can still snark with the best of them, and has a hilarious comeback for every occasion. But all he really wanted was a his job back, so the final film shows him back in true form—polite, gracious, and self-sacrificing. The filmmakers gave me a nice little shipper moment between him and Elizabeth (who treated him like trash, I might add) and then… killed him off. Seated in the theater in a packed-out house for the first showing, I felt my stomach drop. I barely repressed the “NOOOOOO…” that I heard echoed around the theater. Clearly, I was not the only person who liked him. Even the fully grown, bearded dude in the seat next to me went, “WHY.”
Needless to say, I resent this decision. I think Norrington deserved better. He deserved a feisty girl of his own, who liked his stodginess and could get him to button-down a bit. He deserved a position of respect on the island. He deserved a better commission, and a beautiful ship, and… not to die. Even if he did it protecting the woman he loved, who had left him behind. He redeemed himself for aligning with her enemies through the gift of his life. Norrington cut the escape line so she could live, and paid for it with his own life. He was smart, he was hilarious, and he was a good man, beneath the sarcastic exterior. I’m grateful to Disney for not falling into a rut with Norrington and making him the usual ‘white villain’ that has befallen many a story. They made him into a well-rounded character, who was also the source of many of the franchise’s funniest lines. It’s a shame he never had a chance with Elizabeth but… maybe, just maybe, he ws too good for her. Yes, I can live with that.
I wrote this post to contribute to We Love Pirates Week! Click through to read more entries.