Author: Anna, longlostblue
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean
Character: Lord Cutler Beckett
Spoilers: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End.
Notes: A shout-out to the ladies at KTTC and cutler_beckett. :)
Lord Cutler Beckett
"Soft glove, hard fist. On the outside, he's very arrogant and charming, but the inside is incredibly hard.”
Nothing could be closer to the truth in describing Lord Cutler Beckett, undisputed villain of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End.
The first time we see Beckett, he's riding ashore on a horse in a longboat, framed by pelting rain and a darkened sky. It’s a very striking image, and serves excellently to introduce his character. The dark silhouette of horse and rider presents an image that is stark and ruthless, and when he rides past the row of soldiers, it leaves the impression that he is in command of the situation. Not to mention that it takes great skill to control a horse in such a precarious position, and control is precisely what Beckett desires most.
His first line, in response to Governor Swann’s exclamation of “Cutler Beckett!?” is, “It’s Lord now, actually.” Beckett obviously values his position and the authority it gives him. We discover that he possesses arrest warrants for Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, and seems amused at Governor Swann’s shock.
Later, when Will is brought in chains to the East India Trading Company Headquarters, Beckett is polite to Will, offering him a drink and telling the guards that Will's manacles won't be necessary. He seems very self-possessed, assured that Will will agree to his terms. Throughout the entire scene Beckett appears well-mannered and calm, although he makes plain his ambitious intentions. He may be cold and calculating, but he understands social niceties and decorum, even if it is only a veneer for his ruthlessness.
This calm attitude is especially apparent when Elizabeth threatens him at gunpoint, in an attempt to retrieve the letters of marque that will pardon Will. He twists her words, subtly taunts her and gains the upperhand, barely blinking an eyelid as she cocks the pistol beneath his chin. As Beckett signs and seals the letters, he suggests that perhaps Elizabeth’s goal is to give the letters to Jack, not will. Although she denies it, it is revealed later on that she does have some feelings for Jack. “He's very good at seeing what people's motivations are and what he can make them do. He sees something between Jack and Elizabeth he can exploit.” As she is about to flee with the letters, he reminds her, “I’ll still want that compass. Consider that into your calculations.” The tone of this last statement implies that he has calculations of his own. This becomes especially apparent when he manipulates Governor Swann into giving up his authority as governor of Port Royal, by suggesting that Elizabeth’s life is in danger and he can order his ships to spare her.
Also popping up in numerous places is the issue of Beckett’s ego. After DMC it was still up for debate whether Beckett was arrogant or merely confident, but with AWE his arrogance becomes plain. A massive, regal portrait of himself hangs aboard his ship, and he seems to feel no doubts that he will succeed in eliminating piracy. But his ego does not blind him completely. “There’s nothing that can hold against the armada, what with the Dutchman at the lead,” says his henchman Mercer. “Nothing we know of,” Beckett corrects, and Mercer’s face falls.
There can be no doubt about Beckett’s ruthlessness. He intentionally interrupts Will and Elizabeth’s wedding day, and seems to derive a sort of sadistic amusement from their shock and anger. He also gives Elizabeth’s arrest warrant to Governor Swann while telling him it’s Will’s, as if to see his reaction. In AWE he suspends citizen’s rights and hangs dozens of pirates, a young cabin boy included. He shows no qualms about having Elizabeth’s father killed after he outlives his usefulness, and when Elizabeth accuses him of the crime, he simply replies, “He chose his own fate.” He also appears to have no scruples in dishonoring his agreement with Jack, saying to himself, “It’s nothing personal, Jack. It’s just good business.” This line is repeated several times throughout AWE, demonstrating Beckett’s view that business is business, no matter how ruthless, and that the ends satisfy the means.
Master of Puppets
Throughout most of DMC and AWE, Beckett carefully orchestrates his plans and easily controls others. It appears that almost everyone else is dancing to his tune, practically falling over themselves to make bargains with him! Even Davy Jones, who is reluctantly taking orders from Beckett, finds himself “managed” by Beckett. “I cannot be summoned like some mongrel pup!" Davy shouts, to which Beckett calmly responds, “Apparently, you can.” During the negotiations with Jack aboard the Endeavour, he never misses a beat, tossing bargains (and items!) back and forth and eventually leveling a pistol at Jack’s head. At one point, Jack calls his bluff, to which Beckett replies, slightly irritated, “Damn.” However, the very next sentence he utters is yet another tactical move. He radiates calm confidence as he has tea with Will, utterly secure in the knowledge that everything is going his way, and seems undisturbed at Davy’s frequent outbursts. “Beckett views people as objects to be manipulated, and relationships as weaknesses to be exploited.”
“He's very cold.” Almost every time we see Beckett, he is calm, cool, and in control of himself. His thoughts occasionally flicker in his eyes but more often than not, he keeps a tight reign on his emotions and remains aloof and self-composed. “As Cutler Beckett, you may have noticed I don't raise my voice. It's a high status thing.” In DMC he appears fearless and composed with Elizabeth’s pistol pointed at his head, and quickly recovers after Will asks him about the mark Jack left on him, apparently a touchy subject. (Unfortunately, we never learn more about this mark.) He appears completely at ease in the “parlay” scene on the beach in AWE, and, in fact, in almost every scene he’s in. His voice is raised only once or twice.
Perhaps the best example of Beckett’s constant composure is his death. Realization dawns on him that he cannot defeat the invincible Dutchman, and he ignores an officer’s plea for orders, staring out over the destruction of his ship. There are certainly moments of disbelief and confusion, as his world falls down around him, but no cowardice or scrambling for last-ditch efforts. He accepts his fate gracefully, walking into the middle of the flying debris.
Domination is the Name of the Game
“Today the Caribbean, tomorrow the world.” For Beckett, life is about conquest, control, and, essentially, world domination. In DMC he seeks Jack’s compass that will point the way to the thing the bearer wants most – in Beckett’s case, the heart of Davy Jones, which will enable him to command the seas. “He's after Jack's compass. It’s something that will help him dominate the world, and he's not shy about making a deal with anyone to get it.” In one of the final scenes of DMC, Norrington delivers the heart to him, and in AWE he makes full use of his new power.
Also noteworthy is a massive map in DMC, which Beckett has commissioned to be painted on his wall. As events progress, we see the map become more and more detailed, until finally it is complete, symbolizing Beckett’s rise to power. He also has several maps and globes aboard the Endeavour, complete with miniature ships and men to plan tactics with. “On Beckett's desk in the cabin are toy ships and navigational devices which intentionally resemble instruments of torture. He not only has the world in a vise, but he's going to flay it as well.”
Compare and Contrast
“Beckett does the same thing Jack does – he parcels out information as a way of manipulating people into doing what he wants. They’re very similar in that.” From the beginning, a parallel can be seen between Beckett and Jack’s methods – namely, a tendency for manipulation and negotiation. “He's very good at playing one character off against another.” This statement, while made about Beckett, could easily be describing Jack as well. Despite this, their inherent personalities appear miles apart - but they are closer than it appears. They share the same touch of cynicism and apparent fondness for witty repartee, and, of course, the mutual partiality for bargaining.
In DMC, Beckett mentions that he and Jack had dealings in the past, and it is made fairly clear that Beckett was the one to brand Jack a pirate. Unfortunately, their back-story is not fleshed out in AWE, although leaked scripts tell us that Jack used to work for Beckett and refused to transport slaves as cargo, and thus was branded.
When they talk aboard the Endeavour, their negotiating tactics are remarkably alike, and their subtly snide remarks slingshot back and forth at lightning speed. They appear fairly at ease with each other, speaking in casual tones and sharing drinks. But they also mock each other – Jack, imitating Beckett’s pose in a painting, and Beckett, mimicking Jack by fanning himself the way Jack did moments before. For a brief scene as Beckett sits in his chair, he’s actually smiling in a somehow devious way, as if he’s enjoying the dealings.
In contrast, Jack and Beckett’s personal appearances could not be more different. Beckett dresses elegantly and immaculately, while Jack “in Beckett's view is naughty, messy, has dreadlocks, could do with a few more baths, and worst of all, is a pirate. To Cutler Beckett, Jack Sparrow is a stray dog.”
Many Beckett fans feel that Beckett is judged too severely for doing the same things Jack and other characters do – namely, being tricky and manipulative – while Jack remains largely without criticism. The difficulty lies in that the lines between good and evil are blurred in these movies, seeing as the protagonists, the pirates, are criminals.
Very few fans of Beckett feel he’s “misunderstood” or “good inside.” The opposite, in fact – they revel in his villainy! Fans often get swoony when he gives commands or acts on his power and authority. Although he is accepted and loved as a ruthless, cunning bad guy, it is commonly considered that the average Pirates of the Caribbean fan is too harsh on Beckett. Not only does he often receive biased criticism (See the last paragraph of Compare and Contrast, ) but he is also judged very harshly for hanging pirates and attempting to destroy piracy. Beckett fans are quick to point out that while pirates are romanticized in these movies, they are essentially just criminals, and 99% of pirates were bloodthirsty and vicious. They feel that while Beckett may be the bad guy, everyone must remember that the pirates aren’t exactly paragons of virtue, either.
In Fanon and Fan Fiction
Fanon played a big part with Beckett fans before the release of AWE, owing to the fact that we see very little of him in DMC. Much of his personality and background had to be crafted from the tiny clues in the movie, leading to a very fleshed out and complex fanon character that is still true to what the film portrays.
In fanon, Beckett is witty and clever, but in a cold, caustic way, possessing a calm energy and somewhat cynical attitude. His surroundings and clothing are very elegant, but not flashy or foppish. He has “genteel” interests, such as riding, hunting, chess, and occasionally a musical instrument. He is almost always depicted as an excellent horseman.
A major point of fanon, not too far from the original canon, is that Beckett loves to dominate. He must be in control of everything, and takes pleasure in bending others to his will. This comes into play often in fan fiction, where he is usually paired with Elizabeth or Norrington. In both cases, Beckett tends to be the dominant one in the relationship, controlling an otherwise strong and independent individual. He outsmarts and cleverly persuades and manipulates the other, who gives in to him because there is no alternative, but often ends up liking his domination. A popular theme involves Beckett “taming” the fiesty and free-spirited Elizabeth, bringing out her “hidden” desires for power. Fans joke that together, Beckett and Elizabeth could take over the world.
In fan fiction, it is also not uncommon to see Beckett wielding the proverbial “whips and chains” in the bedroom. However, there appears to be a general consensus that Beckett would not stoop to rape, preferring “reluctant submission” to force. The act of giving in may be compelled by manipulation and circumstances, but physical force would be unlikely.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
With AWE, we see the death of a memorable character. Opinions were strong on Lord Cutler Beckett – he was hated, and he was loved, but there was rarely anything in between. Fans praise him for the same things others detest him for, but one thing is agreed upon – he was a force to be reckoned with, an admirable opponent, and he died a dignified death. He will not be forgotten any time soon in the fandom, and will be remembered either as the villain you love to hate, or the villain you love to love. “The devil always has the best tunes.”
Bring Me That Horizon
FilmFocus.co.uk, Interview with Tom Hollander
All other quotes are from writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, or directly from the films.