There is a persistent, but unsubstantiated rumor that the real Fletcher Christian did not die on Pitcairn Island, but made it back to England. Several of his relatives later swore that they had spoken with him, and that he lived out the rest of his life in hiding.
The recreation of the "Bounty" specially built for the movie had, for many years, been used as a tourist cruise ship at Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, until 2007 when it was sold to HKR International Limited. The ship is now on Lantau Island in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, and continues to function as a tourist cruise charter.
Captain William Bligh's later career was peppered with further mutinies and complaints about his "oppressive attitude". His tyrannical nature later sparked the Rum Rebellion in New South Wales in 1808, which led to his being forcibly deported.
In addition to the replica of "The Bounty", David Lean also supervised the refitting of the frigate Rose that would play the role of the frigate H.M.S. Pandora, the ship sent by the Admiralty to hunt the mutineers. The idea was scrapped, but the frigate later became the H.M.S. Surprise in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).
Because of his invalid union card, Hugh Grant was dismissed from this production. Grant had been originally cast in the role of Peter Heywood, who inspired the character of Roger Byam in the original Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel and earlier film versions.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, who had battled with alcoholism until becoming abstinent in 1975, was worried about Mel Gibson's heavy drinking, saying, "Mel is a wonderful, wonderful fellow with a marvelous future. He's already something of a superstar, but he's in danger of blowing it, unless he takes hold of himself." Gibson, who likewise self-identified as an alcoholic, agreed with this concern, and added his admiration for the Welsh actor: "He was terrific. He was good to work with, because he was open, and he was willing to give. He's a moral man, and you could see this. I think we had the same attitudes."
The hull of the reproduction of H.M.S. Bounty built for this film is built of steel, and only clad in wood. The reproduction of H.M.S. Bounty built for Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) was built of wood, in the traditional manner.
One significant historical event, which is completely omitted from the film, is the initial attempt by Fletcher Christian and the mutineers to found a colony on the island of Tubuai, south of Tahiti. Christian landed on Tubuai shortly after the mutiny and, after finding nearly three thousand hostile natives, established a fort on the northern side of the island, using weaponry from the Bounty. After nearly two months of constant skirmishes with natives, Christian and the mutineers abandoned the island, and only then returned to Tahiti for more men and supplies, before heading east towards Pitcairn. Thomas Burkett, who had been severely wounded on Tubuai fighting natives, stayed behind in Tahiti, even though he was clearly a mutineer, and would be hanged if ever found by the Royal Navy (Burkett was in fact captured and executed for mutiny).
Warner Brothers, then hugely over budget with Superman (1978), withdrew from the project, when Director David Lean and Screenwriter Robert Bolt decided to film Bolt's sprawling screenplay as two films, or rather, one massive epic released in two parts, one year apart, though filmed simultaneously.
Mel Gibson described the making of the film as difficult because of the long production and bad weather: "I went mad. They would hold their breath at night when I went off. One night I had a fight in a bar and the next day they had to shoot only one side of my face because the other was so messed up. If you see the film, you can see the swelling in certain scenes."
Though there was some filming done in Gisborne, on the New Zealand coast, and Kiwis provided actors, extras, background artists, and crew, including Second Unit, the picture is a U.S. and UK co-production, without any financing from New Zealand, and is such, is not classified as a New Zealand film, as evidenced by its non-inclusion in the book "New Zealand Film 1912-1996" (1997).
Sir Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis went on to play U.S. Presidents, and receive Oscar nominations in the part. Day-Lewis won Best Actor for Lincoln (2012). Hopkins was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Amistad (1997), and Best Actor for Nixon (1995).
David Lean oversaw the construction of "The Bounty" replica ship, which was paid for by Dino De Laurentiis, and constructed in New Zealand's most northern city Whangarei on its North Island's Northland Region.
Mel Gibson has expressed a belief that the film's revisionism did not go far enough, believing that his character should have been portrayed as the film's antagonist. He praised Sir Anthony Hopkins' performance, as Lieutenant William Bligh, as the best aspect of the film.
Mel Gibson was disappointed with both his performance and the finished film. He later said of the film, "I think the main problem with that film was that it tried to be a fresh look at the dynamic of the mutiny situation, but didn't go far enough. In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he'd gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn't quite work."
It was originally to be released as a two-part film, one named "The Lawbreakers", that dealt with the voyage out to Tahiti and the subsequent mutiny, and the second named "The Long Arm" that studied the journey of the mutineers after the mutiny, as well as the Admiralty's response in sending out the frigate H.M.S. Pandora. David Lean could not find financial backing for both films after Warner Brothers withdrew from the project, so he decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part television miniseries, before finally getting backing from Dino De Laurentiis.
Despite the fact that Vangelis had previously won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire (1981), and had a successful solo music career, there was no official soundtrack issued to tie in with the film's release.
Katherine Hepburn personally recommended Christopher Reeve, with whom she had worked on a play, and became good friends with the then-unknown actor, for the part of Fletcher Christian to Dino DeLaurentiis. After considering it, Reeve turned the part down, feeling he would be miscast, and Mel Gibson was hired instead for the role. He expressed no regrets years later over his decision, and felt Gibson was much better suited for the role.
Despite the 20th & 21st century based judgment of the punishment meted on screen by Anthony Hopkins, historians determined LT Bligh's disciplining of his sailors as LESS severe by comparison to his peers.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Fletcher Christian returns to Tahiti after the mutiny, he informs King Tynah that they had set Captain Bligh adrift. In real-life, Christian lied to Tynah, telling him that Bligh had met up with Captain Cook and together were founding a new settlement, and that they had sent Christian back to Tahiti for men and supplies.
The film's closing epilogue states: "The mutineers' fate remained a mystery for eighteen years, until their island was discovered by an American whaling ship. They found one man, John Adams, with nine women and 23 children. What happened to Fletcher Christian remains uncertain. Some say he was murdered on Pitcairn Island, but then there were reports that he returned safely to England. However, his descendants live on Pitcairn Island to this day."