There is a TV series about Magellan’s circumnavigation!!! What great news! That’s what I thought when I first heard about Boundless, a six-part TV miniseries on Amazon Prime. I couldn’t wait to see it.
The first episode is about Magellan’s rejection by the King of Portugal and transfer of his allegiance to King Charles of Spain. The episode outlined the main conflicts well. These are first the antagonism between the Spanish captains of the armada and Magellan, and second the determination of the Portuguese to protect their spice trade. So far so good. Minor historical inaccuracies riddle the forty-minute video. Some are inevitable in the translation to the screen when presenting a complex story like Magellan’s that has a huge cast of characters. Some inaccuracies simply seemed so wrong to me, like when in the video Magellan bursts uninvited into a room with King Charles and rolls out his chart and explains how he intends to get to the Spice Islands…all while some thirty men stand there watching and listening. No. Just no. Magellan was extremely secretive about the route he intended to sail.
The episode sets up El Cano to be the hero of the series as Magellan desperately needs a tillerman, whatever the heck that is. (A seaman did tend the tiller which controls the rudder, but that is a task, not a position. We actually have the pay rosters at the beginning of the voyage and the paid positions for the sailors are master, mate, pilot, seaman and apprentice seaman. There is no tillerman) El Cano, who is in trouble for selling a royal ship without authorization (an actual fact) agrees to sail with Magellan on his flagship. El Cano was actually the mate on one of the other ships and hence in the scheme of things perhaps the fifteenth or twentieth most senior officer of the fleet.
The fleet sails at the end of the first episode. We see someone dropping into the ocean floating notes about the route of the fleet! Excuse me? Didn’t happen and wholly unrealistic.
Early in the second episode we find Magellan’s fleet being pursued by a Portuguese fleet. Didn’t happen. There is a brief fight. Some of El Cano’s men fire a cannon shot at a distant Portuguese ship…and partially dismasts the ship. Didn’t happen and unrealistic. Then in a brilliant suggestion El Cano suggests they sail south and out distance the Portuguese ships. Haha.
I stopped watching at this point.
My conclusion is that if you want a sea story with lots of action you might find this interesting. If you want something somewhat historically accurate, pass this by. As one reviewer on imdb said, ‘there is no script that can be better than reality’ when dealing with such momentous historical events. I might have enjoyed the series were it not so laughably inaccurate.
This series was produced by the national TV of Spain as well as Amazon Prime in honor of the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation. As such, I believe they’ve attempted to put Spain’s past in the best light. For example King Charles is portrayed as an extremely handsome, almost beautiful, young man. He was certainly a remarkable man both devout and intelligent. Handsome? No. He had the massive lower Hapsburg jaw with an extreme underbite due to the inbreeding of the Hapsburgs.
Edited 8/3/22 to clarify what a tillerman is and isn’t.