The Bounty (1984) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • The story of Lieutenant Bligh, whose cruelty leads to a mutiny on his ship. Follows both the efforts of Fletcher Christian to get his men beyond the reach of British retribution and the epic voyage of Lieutenant Bligh to get his loyalists safely to East Timor in a tiny lifeboat.

  • Fed up with their captain's harsh discipline, a sailing ship crew decides to take action.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • London, 1790. Lieutenant William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) arrives in court, facing charges that his ship, The HMS Bounty, was taken by mutiny. Admiral Hood (Laurence Olivier) and Captain Greetham (Edward Fox) ask him to tell the court his story.

    Bligh recounts his story. In December 1787, he recruits Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to bring breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica (and also to circumnavigate the world). John Fryer (Daniel-Day Lewis) is Master of the Ship, so Fletcher would serve as Master's Mate. The ship's bosun is William Cole (Bernard Hill).

    The Bounty sails from Spithead, England on December 23rd and over dinner in the crew area, seamen Charles Churchill (Liam Neeson) and Matthew Quintal (Neil Morrissey) fight, while Bligh and Fryer eat with Nelson (Simon Chandler) and Doc Huggan (Malcolm Terris). Thomas Heywood (Simon Adams) goes to investigate, but the crew covers the fracas with loud music.

    As the ship crosses the equator, the crew hazes Heywood while Bligh watches. Bligh shows a mean streak for even the slightest transgression, and seems to enjoy putting the crew through extra efforts.

    Rounding Cape Horn, the ship is buffeted by strong weather and waves. Fryer argues with Bligh over whether they should turn back; Bligh disagrees, and even though they have to take an alternate route, Bligh expresses his doubts about Fryer in the ship's log. He announces to the crew that Fryer is being replaced by Christian; Fryer is upset.

    The Bounty arrives in Tahiti on October 26, 1788 after ten months at sea. Bligh barters with King Tynah (Wi Kuki Kaa) for breadfruit. During the time spent waiting for breadfruit to grow, Fletcher falls in love with a native girl, Mauatua (Tevaite Vernette) the daughter of King Tynah, eventually impregnating her. Upset by this turn of events, Bligh seeks to disrupt the relationship. Romanced by the beautiful scenery of Tahiti, Churchill and some of the crew desert the ship, and Heyward is lashed for not reporting it. Bligh tells the crew that shore leave is cancelled. Fletcher refuses to enforce Bligh's discipline.

    The deserters return to the island, and Doc Huggan is found dead. The deserters are flogged as Fletcher bids farewell to Mauatua. Shortly after, the Bounty sets sail for Jamaica on April 4, 1789. Bligh tries to reconcile with Fletcher, but he is withdrawn. Bligh continues to be harsh on the crew, especially towards Fletcher and his watch. Bligh announces that they will return around Cape Horn to sail to Jamaica. Disagreements lead Fletcher and the crew to plot a mutiny.

    On the evening of April 28, Fletcher and his group take over the ship in a relatively bloodless battle. Of the 42-man crew, 18 join Fletcher in the mutiny, two remain neutral, and 22 side with Bligh. Fletcher and the mutineers order Bligh, two midshipmen, the surgeon's mate (Ledward), and the ship's clerk and 14 others into one of the ship's lifeboats and they are cast adrift, and Fletcher sails the Bounty back to Tahiti.

    Upon arrival back in Tahiti, Fletcher is unable to barter with King Tynah, but Mauatua elects to leave with him, so Tynah gives some of his men to help sail the ship. Heyworth stays in Tahiti, as does Churchill. The Bounty leaves Tahiti in September 1789 to sail for an unchartered island for them to settle on and to avoid the Royal Navy.

    Meanwhile, Bligh and his men sail the open boat 30 nautical miles to Tofua in search of supplies, but are soon forced to flee after attacks by hostile natives result in the death of one of his men, and they are forced to leave without provisions. Bligh decides to skirt other islands like Fiji and head to Timor. Bligh's men are forced to ration food and water, but he maintains order. After a 47-day, 3,000 mile journey in the open rowboat, Bligh and his men reach the Dutch port of Coupang, Timor in Dutch Indonesia... exhausted and barely alive. Bligh reports the mutiny.

    Fletcher and The Bounty do not fare as well. They have little luck finding a paradise island for them to hide out on, and the men do not respect him. Fletcher decides to try and find Pitcairn Island, mentioned in logs but not specified. On January 15, 1790 they discover Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy's charts. After the decision is made to settle on Pitcairn, livestock and other provisions are removed from the Bounty. To prevent the ship's detection, and anyone's possible escape, Fletcher orders the ship to be burned. The date is January 23, 1790.

    Back in England, Bligh is exonerated by the court for having anything to do with the cause of the muntiny.

    Back on Pitcairn, Fletcher and the mutineers watch the Bounty burn in the shallow bay of the island.

    The disclaimer during the end credits states that 35 years later, only John Adams and his new English-Tahitian mixed race family was found on Pitcairn Island by a passing British warship. The descendents of the HMS Bounty mutaineers continue to live on Pitcairn Island. The fate of Fletcher Christian remains unknown but it is believed that he was killed somtime in 1793 during a civil conflict on Pitcairn Island along with most of the other muntineers with the exception of Adams.

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