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Tenacious ‘The Buccaneers’ is an imbalanced but stirring ascent into British high society

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

With the immense success of British period pieces such as “Bridgerton” or “The Crown,” it comes as no surprise that other producers are keen to explore the popular milieu of historic Britain in all of its decadent glory. Apple TV+’s latest series, “The Buccaneers,” is its foray into the era, loosely inspired by Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel of the same name.

“The Buccaneers” follows a rambunctious quintet of American women who journey across the pond in search of a marriage proposal. A group of British men, poor but landowning, are enticed by their new-money background and eager to take their hand in marriage. If only things could remain that blissfully simple for the women. 

Conchita Closson (Alisha Boe) falls pregnant with a British nobleman’s child before the two marry and return to his home in England, after which she is challenged with burdensome high society expectations. Anabel “Nan” St. George (Kristine Froseth) is naive but earnest in her pursuit of true love, only to get stuck in a love triangle as she uncovers a disastrous secret about her past. Her sister, Virginia “Jinny” St. George (Imogen Waterhouse) is eager to marry, but holds the weight of responsibility on her shoulders as the eldest daughter. Mabel Elmsworth (Josie Totah), too, is just as intent on partaking in romantic ventures — simply not the kind that a heteronormative society would embrace. All the while, Mabel’s older sister, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Elmsworth (Aubri Ibrag), struggles with the aftermath of a traumatic event.

“The Buccaneers” relishes in the anachronistic. Where many period pieces work arduously to maintain their historical aesthetic, “The Buccaneers” sets its scenes to Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers as characters contemplate issues of race, gender and class. In the same way that the female cast challenges the norms of British and American society alike, “The Buccaneers” contests what exactly defines a period as it ventures across eras in telling the story of its women that defy historical expectations.

But for a series where so much of the plot hinges on the many romantic relationships and ensuing tensions that arise from them, very few have any chemistry. The performances of the actors aren’t bad per se, but when it comes to romance, it’s very clear that this is not where they or the writing excel. 

Moments of romantic tension feel almost flat compared to the rich relationships between the women in the series. Whether it’s Nan’s lackluster love triangle or her sister Jinny’s elopement, these narrative threads don’t hold a candle to the rich tapestry of sisterhood in “The Buccaneers” and all of the challenges faced along the way. 

“The Buccaneers” would be infinitely more pleasurable if viewers could sit in on intimate moments between sisters, friends and everything in between as they discuss the tumultuous marriage scene of Britain. At its best, the show embraces everything womanhood and sisterhood could mean: wit, freedom, fighting, tenacity and so much more. It’s a shame that the series favors its romantic scenes above the vibrant interpersonal relationships viewers bear witness to.

The beauty of the relationships between the women of the series is only hindered by its scattered pacing. Nan disappears to the British seaside for over a month after a tense argument with her sister, but this period is given a cursory treatment, covered quickly within a few scenes before the show moves onwards. Yet lone parties warrant entire episodes dedicated almost exclusively to them. “The Buccaneers” is teeming with life but so sporadic it’s hard to keep up. Audiences are just as disoriented as the women are in a suffocating and restrictive high society, and the series would benefit from an additional episode or two to fully explore the many narrative threads being woven.

While Wharton’s novel was left incomplete after her untimely death, “The Buccaneers” bravely marches on in an attempt to breathe new life into the narrative. While the result is often unbalanced, the series triumphs as a moving and complex exploration of a group of women and their turbulent journey of love and anguish.

Contact Maida Suta at