Since Treasure Island is packed with character actors of distinction, it’s easy to overlook the young actor who played Jim Hawkins. But Ashley Knight more than holds his own amongst such august company, possessing just the right amount of youthful spirit and innocence.
That he’s deceived by Silver shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Long John also managed to fool Squire Trelawney (Thorley Walters). But, to be fair, fooling the Squire probably wasn’t too tricky for Silver, as Trelawney (as per Stevenson’s novel) is portrayed as the sort of trusting, loose-mouthed individual you really wouldn’t want to entrust with the delicate matter of finding a ship and crew to sail to the Spanish Main in search of buried treasure. Walters is a delight as the Squire, he may be pompous and vain but he’s also curiously lovable.
The way that Silver manipulates Trelawney into engaging him as the ship’s cook and then agrees that he can handpick the crew provides us with another opportunity to witness the apparently charming and helpful side of Silver (although he’s only serving his own interests of course). His charm is seen again when the wily Long John takes Jim under his wing. There’s no reason why Silver should seek to deceive Jim, which leads us to assume that his friendly stories have no ulterior motive. But there’s a sting in the tail – at the same time he’s regaling Jim with yarns about the sea, Silver is planning to murder Trelawney, Livesey and Captain Smollett (Richard Beale) and anyone else who stands in his way.
Would he also do the same to Jim? It’s not explicitly stated, but he does confide to Israel (the ever-watchable Patrick Troughton) that he doesn’t intend to leave any witnesses, so we can pretty much take it as read. This dichotomy in Long John’s character is what makes him so fascinating – the other pirates make little or no attempt to hide their evil intent, but it’s the way that Silver can wear different masks at different times that makes him such an enduringly appealing creation. And of course, in the hands of an actor as good as Alfred Burke it’s just a pleasure to watch.
Not all of the crew are content, like Silver, to wait for the right time to make their move, some want action now. Prime amongst the malcontents is Merry (Roy Boyd) who paces the ship with a murderous look on his face, but you get the feeling that he’s never going to be any sort of match for Long John.
During this era of television, directors tended to have a “rep” of actors who they employed on a regular basis. If you’re familiar with some of Michael E. Briant’s previous productions then names such as Roy Evans, Richard Beale, Royston Tickner and Alec Wallis will be familiar ones. Alec Wallis has a nice little cameo as Patmore, a corrupt tailor who Silver deliberately sends along to Trelawney, just so he can denounce him before the Squire and therefore gain his trust. Beale is suitably upright as the incorruptible Smollett, a man who sets to sea with the gravest misgivings about the crew (a pity nobody listened to him).
Before the ship sets sail there are several scenes which take place within the Squire’s cabin. Thanks to a very simple CSO effect (bobbing waves outside the cabin window) the illusion at being on the water is created very effectively. But there’s no substitute for the real thing and it’s the later filmwork aboard the Hispaniola, as it makes it way towards Treasure Island, which really opens up the production.