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On The Hunt

A gaggle of wealthy American women hit London in search of aristocratic British husbands in edgy new costume drama Buccaneers

A near century may have passed since Edith Wharton’s novel about young American women making their mark on London’s high society was first published, but the kind of glee, adventure and heartache experienced by the five that descend upon the tight-laced English upper crust has never gone out of fashion. “We’ve all had that first taste of freedom, where you go away with your friends and it’s the most thrilling thing ever – and you think it’s going to be the time of your life, and maybe it might be, or maybe it might be the worst time of your life,” says Katherine Jakeways, the creator and showrunner of the book’s latest television adaptation. “You might make new friends and have new experiences, and maybe you get romance, but the most important thing is that you’re doing it with your friends. You’re having the best laugh, and you’re collapsing on the bed at the end of the night going, ‘Oh my God, can you believe that we get to do it all again tomorrow?’ ”

Apple TV+

The Buccaneers centres on independent thinker Nan St. George (Kristine Froseth), whose heart soon becomes torn between the artistic Theo, Duke of Tintagel (Guy Remmers) and his best friend Guy Thwarte (Matthew Broome), and Nan’s more traditional sister Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse), who is desperate to find the right husband. The two, along with Elmsworth sisters Mabel (Josie Totah) and Lizzy (Aubri Ibrag), accompany their lively friend Conchita Closson (Alisha Boe) to England, who, after a whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage with Lord Richard Marable (Josh Dylan), struggles to fit in with his prim and proper family. Needless to say, they cause quite the stir.

It was the timelessness of these female friendships that Jakeways always found contemporary about the source material, after which she and her writers delightedly dug into some of the darker themes that, in the late 1800s, lacked language. “We’ve given all of the characters more storyline than they have in the book. Some of the relationship stories that we wanted to tell and some of the storylines that we wanted to give them have been ones that we’ve invented,” Jakeways explains. “Same-sex relationships, of course, were happening just as much then as they are now. And coercive control relationships — we have language now for talking about abuse within relationships, and types of relationships, which absolutely have been happening throughout history.”

Apple TV+

Tonally, these Buccaneers land somewhere between Netflix’s Bridgerton and Apple TV+’s own Dickinson. By allowing the language to remain quite informal, and setting the romance to adapted Taylor Swift songs, Jakeways hopes to remove some of the distance created by the century between us. “Sometimes when you’re watching a period drama, it can feel like you’re looking at a painting of some people in the past, and go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Those things happened to some people.’ This makes it feel a bit more like people that we know, and people that we’d be friends with,” she says. “I hope fans of period dramas will find loads of stuff that are familiar to them, and that they love the locations and the costumes and the romances, but I hope, for people who don’t think they like period dramas, [that they will see that] these are people just like us.”

As Wharton never finished her novel, any attempt to end it on her behalf has always resulted in ire. The 1995 BBC miniseries was accused of being “too Hollywood,” whereas Marion Mainwaring’s ending of the novel, based on Wharton’s outline, was called “a bastardization.” For Jakeways, finding a place to end the series was surprisingly not a concern. “It actually mattered less than you would think,” she says. “We were very careful to use the edition of the novel that didn’t have that ending put onto it. We haven’t talked about any of the bits of the book that Edith Wharton didn’t know about.” For Jakeways, Wharton’s novel gave her and the writers plenty to work with. “If you read it, the first third of the book is so rich and so well-drawn, and all the characters are so great,” she says. “Then, I feel the hand of her knowing that she was potentially not going to finish it, which is very sad, actually.”

Although Jakeways is focused on the first season finding its way into the heart of viewers, she does see the potential for more Buccaneer adventures. “I’m in love with the characters and the world of it,” she says. “I would love to think that there’s a possibility we could do more with them. There’s so much more you could do with what’s happening in their relationships now, and then future relationships. And they’re the tip of an iceberg of girls coming over to England. Conchita is keen to say that she’s the original American in London, but after that, there were hundreds of Americans who turned up, so there are lots of stories that could be told.”

Buccaneers, airing Wednesday, November 22 on Apple TV+

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