With stunning visuals and strong female characters, Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers is the perfect show for some period drama entertainment.
Created by Katherine Jakeways, The Buccaneers is an anachronistic and feminist tale from its very beginning that, much like its characters, promises to be unapologetic, entertaining, and fun. From Apple TV+ comes a Bridgerton-esque series on love, friendship, and family. It is the perfect show for fans of period drama so naturally, I immediately took interest in the story and patiently waited for a new episode to come out every week to immerse myself in 19th century London at the height of the social season.
The Buccaneers is loosely based on a novel of the same name by Edith Wharton and set in 1870s London as a group of five young American women, made up of Nan St. George (Kristine Froseth), Jinny St. George (Imogen Waterhouse), Conchita Closson (Alisha Boe), Lizzy Elmsworth (Aubri Ibrag), and Mabel Elmsworth (Josie Totah) join the social season. Their arrival causes a cultural clash in their approach to tradition, propriety, and courtship compared to the British standard they are expected to follow. As the series goes on, we see their friendship evolve as much as every woman’s journey in a world that only wants them to find a suitable match and get married, as explained by their mothers, including Patti St. George (Christina Hendricks), at the beginning.
The cast of The Buccaneers is excellent at bringing to life all of their characters. While all five friends are outstanding as their respective characters, Aubri Ibrag particularly stood out to me in her heartfelt portrayal of her character’s heartbreaking journey: she talks little about what happens to her, but her reactions and facial expression make her feelings immediately clear to her audience. Ultimately, they are the heart of the show as we see various women fighting to lead the life they choose and have their voices heard in a world that would rather have them obedient and silent.
I also have to praise The Buccaneers for its directing and cinematography. The mise-en-scene is always a pleasure to see as we move between various households across England, the AppleTV+ show gives us the opportunity to explore the beautiful coastal landscape of Cornwall, Scotland during Christmas, or London during the social season, and travel across the sea to New York during certain episodes. The latter is particularly interesting as it is made to look very distinct both visually and culturally from the British setting of the rest of the show. Along with the stunning costumes, the scenery of the setting only adds to the imagery of the period drama many of us have come to know and love.
The Buccaneers is at its best when it focuses on the friendship and sisterhood between the five girls. At the beginning of the show, Conchita tells her friends “darlings, we always come first” and that is the best way to describe the AppleTV+ series. During the show, we see their friendship evolve, both as a group and the relationships between the girls individually, as they move through the social season. While they may drift apart at times, the season finale shows as that they will always be there for each other and that their sisterhood is stronger than anything else. Even in 2023, it is refreshing to see a show focus so heavily on friendships, even when its plot relies naturally on romance and love for the very nature of the show.
While Nan is the main character, The Buccaneers is far too focused on her in my opinion, especially because the majority of her storyline revolves around a love triangle that quickly becomes repetitive and overused in the second half of the season. In the complex world of the social season and fight for equality that we see in the AppleTV+ series, Nan’s struggle to choose between two perfectly good men whom she both loves is the least interesting part of her character and the story in general. There are other storylines in the show that deserved more screen time, such as the plot following Mabel, Lizzie, or Patti, who are all beautiful examples of women putting themselves first and painfully coming to terms with the burden that the society of the time places on them.
I also felt like the underlying common thread between all the storylines in The Buccaneers was the message that Americans are inevitably better. The contrast between American society and the propriety of British society on the other hand is an interesting one and might have even been true to some level at the time. But the constant comparison and duality between the American characters versus the British one can easily become too much. This is especially true because, at the end of the show, it seems that the British are the ones who have to learn how to live their best life from the Americans and are better for it instead of having a mutual exchange between cultures which would have been more interesting to see and far less patronising.
A comparison to Bridgerton almost comes naturally, given that they use similar elements: modern music as part of their soundtrack despite being period pieces, a similar timeframe, and much of the same topics around women’s role at the time, focusing on the reality of the social season by featuring young girls who have just come out into society. But it would not be fair on either show: both Bridgerton and The Buccaneers are very much able to stand on their own with their unique twists to a similar theme and setting that audiences have come to love. One thing is for certain: those who love Bridgerton will probably be happy to have another excellent show to watch while waiting for the next season of the beloved Netflix series.
Historical inaccuracies aside – and there are many of them – the newest Apple TV+ show is an excellent product with fascinating and resilient characters that we can’t help but root and care for. With the last few episodes set around Christmas time, it is the perfect watch during the festive season. And despite some flaws in its narrative, The Buccaneers is entertaining throughout. With its commentary on the societal role assigned to women at the time, it also provides a powerful and interesting insight into gender norms and stereotypes of today.
Season 1 of Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers is now available to watch on digital and on demand.