Fun, drama and female friendship are at the heart of the new show The Buccaneers on Apple TV+, starring Kristine Frøseth, Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Aubri Ibrag, Imogen Waterhouse and Christina Hendricks, an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s final novel.
For creator Katherine Jakeways, what made Wharton's story a worthy starting point for her next project was very much connected to her interest in the characters.
"Edith Wharton has done such a phenomenal job of making these girls come to life on the page and already feeling like they could be girls who existed at any point in history. They're just women, they're just friends," she told Yahoo Canada.
"It's not just about the girls, the older female characters, particularly Mrs. St. George in the book, I just love, and Christina Hendricks has done such a great job of bringing her to life. ... We've sort of tried to keep the older characters just as interesting and as complicated, and surprising, as the younger characters."
What is 'The Buccaneers' about?
The Buccaneers begins in New York City in the 1870s, on the day American Conchitta Closson (Boe) is set to marry her English fiancée, Lord Richard Marable (Josh Dylan). Surrounded by her friends Nan St. George (Frøseth), Jinny St. George (Waterhouse), Lizzy Elmsworth (Ibrag), Mabel Elmsworth (Totah), and Nan and Jinny's mother, played by Christina Hendricks, Richard is initially a no-show. Specifically, he's not quite sure Conchitta will fit into the English aristocracy. Ultimately, love prevails and the two get married.
But that doesn't mean Richard's concerns aren't valid. The New York women are full of personality, opinionated and ultimately run around drinking champagne and being free spirits. That's not the case in Richard's far more stuffy English world.
Richard invites all of Conchitta's friends to England and whether in the U.S. or abroad, the expectation is for all these women to find a husband, ideally one with a notable title. But some of these girls are more excited about the expectation than others.
Nan isn't particularly interested in the idea of getting married, amid her own family's secret scandal, but ends up finding herself in a bit of a love triangle in England with Guy Thwarte (Matthew Broome) and Theo, Duke of Tintagel (Guy Remmers).
Her sister Jinny, on the other hand, is all-in on finding a husband, setting her sights on the English Lord James Seadown (Barney Fishwick).
The Elmsworth sisters both have their own secrets they're hiding from friends and their family throughout their time in England.
Showing the real intimacy between friends
It's certainly tempting to compare The Buccaneers to Bridgerton, another period drama show infused with modern elements, like contemporary music. One thing in particular that sets the two apart is that The Buccaneers allows each of these women to see their own independent path, but there's a very strong focus in the story on how they can always come back to each other for support.
"Nan has different pressures from Jinny and it's refreshing, I think, in a period drama to just let the girls have space to be girls, and space to look at female friendship," director and executive producer Susanna White stressed.
"On one hand there's a love triangle and there's who's going to marry the Duke, or not marry the Duke, but actually the heart of the show is the story of very strong female friendships. I think that's the thing that's so universal."
There's also something particularly interesting in the way The Buccaneers really shows how close these five girls are. There are several moments where the women are laying on top of each other or hugging each other tight. There is a physical closeness that The Buccaneers shows, depicting a real intimacy between this group of friends in private moments that's both authentic and refreshing to see on screen.
"Right from the beginning we wanted to be able to see those girls after the balls, before the banquets and see that sense of intimacy and comfort that they draw from each other," executive producer Beth Willis said. "So they really did have a kind of public and a private persona."
"We wanted to bring them to life by having them all collapse on a bed together and lay on each other's stomachs, and loosen their corsets and relax, because when they are on display, they are stiff and done up and having to perform."
In an episode directed by White, we see this happen: After quite an uncomfortable and uptight dinner, the quintet all collapse onto a bed together.
"I had this idea that I would shoot them kind of almost like puppies in a basket, from on top, and the dresses are all fanned out so you see all the colours of the silks, but the girls are just being girls and tickling each other and fooling around," White explained. "I think that was what was so good about having this big female team on the show, that we all shared stories and anecdotes and experiences, and came out of something very truthful for us."
"I think the big message of the show is, whatever you choose, you've got these very strong female friendships and those people will always be there in your life, and be there for you. ... Whatever happens with the other relationships, the most important things are this very tight group of girls."
A 'safe space' to explore manipulation by men
Aside from this great friendship, The Buccaneers has its dark and uncomfortable moments too. When you have young women feeling pressure from their family, and society, to marry a notable man as soon as possible, it's a setup for things to go wrong. In this case, this includes men who are violent and manipulative.
In terms of approaching this aspect of the story, White explained that even during the casting process, there was a specific way they intended to portray the toxicity of men in the series.
"We didn't want [toxic] written in capital letters, because I think toxic behaviour often does happen with people who are seemingly the most charming on the surface, when you first meet them," White said. "So we didn't want to flag it too much and we wanted an actor who could play that, who had a lot of subtlety about his performance."
"The reveal of that comes slowly and we see it initially through one of the other female characters experiencing that behaviour. I absolutely love those scenes, because they're so truthful and she somehow feels it's her fault, even though it's something very cruel that he's doing to her. He's made her feel bad about herself that she can't share what happens for a very long time. That writing was based on research that Katherine had done with women who had been subjected to abuse. I'm proud of how the series deals with it, because I think it does it with some delicacy, at least I hope it does. I hope people will respond to it."
White also credited the team behind the project being made of women for creating a "safe space" for the cast to take on those darker storylines.
"It was important, also, that we were a female team and that ... the actors felt looked after in those situations, and it was a safe space for them," White stressed. "I think we were very careful in the shooting of it."
"We knew people were vulnerable and we did everything we could to look after them."
While there are a lot of moving parts in The Buccaneers, and yes it's certainly not the first period-modern drama fusion to watch, the final product is a worthy addition to the genre. It's a series crafted with an appealing balance between the more dramatic aspects of the story, and moments where it's just fun to watch. It's a dynamic show with a sort of slow burn that makes you more engrossed in the story with each episode.