Edith Wharton’s ‘The Buccaneers’ gets a modern spin on Apple TV+. How faithful is the new adaptation to the book?
Here’s everything you need to know about Apple TV+’s ‘The Buccaneers’ adaptation
A new, sparkly, modernized adaptation of “The Buccaneers” was released on Nov. 8 on Apple TV+ and met with mostly positive reviews — it received a score of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The series, based on Edith Wharton’s unfinished last novel, follows five rambunctious American socialites as they travel to England during the Gilded Age.
The Apple TV+ series isn’t the first stab at adapting the novel. A miniseries based on Wharton’s work, starring Carla Gugino, was released in 1995.
But this newest iteration is garnering more comparisons to “Bridgerton” than classic period pieces.
Here’s everything you need to know about “The Buccaneers” on Apple TV+, including the biggest ways it departs from Wharton’s novel.
What is the plot of the book ‘The Buccaneers’?
Set in the Gilded Age, “The Buccaneers” follows the five daughters in three new-money families: Nan (the main character) and Jinny St. George; Conchita Closson; and Lizzy and Mabel Elmsworth.
Because they’re very new money, each family is looked down upon in New York society. Despite this, Conchita manages to marry Dick Marable, a handsome English lord from a well-established family with dwindling funds.
After Conchita’s marriage, the girls (also known as the buccaneers) travel to England with their governess, Miss Testvalley. They stay with Conchita, who is unhappily living in Dick’s ancestral home with his family.
English society doesn’t quite know what to do with the girls: They’re frowned upon for their forward “American” manners, but are envied for their money.
Eventually, two more girls marry into British aristocracy, but not Lizzy and Mabel. Practically each marriage is unhappy: Dick, Conchita’s husband, is spendy and absent, and Conchita has multiple affairs; Lord Seadown, Jinny’s husband and Dick’s brother, is cold.
Nan, for her part, is more interested in marrying for love than a title. She originally falls in love with Englishman Guy Thwarte, but their romance is cut short when he leaves for South America for business.
Nan then marries the Duke of Tintagel. They begin their relationship fond of each other, but as their marriage continues, it becomes clear that they married too quickly. Their marriage quickly dissolves.
How does ‘The Buccaneers’ book end?
Because Wharton never finished “The Buccaneers,” the novel ends on a cliffhanger: Nan, now married, is invited by her sister Lizzy to a party — which Guy will be attending.
According to PopSugar, Wharton’s book outlines reveal that she intended for Nan and Guy to ultimately end up together. The two run away together — and in the process, cause quite a scandal — and end up happily together.
Why didn’t Edith Wharton finish ‘The Buccaneers’?
Wharton, who wrote other books such as “The Age of Innocence” and “The House of Mirth,” died in 1937, before she could finish the novel. The unfinished book was published in 1938.
Fifty years after the original publication, author and Edith Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring wrote an ending for “The Buccaneers,” based on Wharton’s own outline.
How faithful is ‘The Buccaneers’ on Apple TV+ to the book?
While the series isn’t finished yet — Apple TV+ released its fourth episode on Nov. 15 and there are eight episodes in its first season, per The Wrap — so far, the show seems to be following the novel’s main plot.
According to BBC, “The Buccaneers” is “loosely” based on the book.
The BBC reported, “‘The Buccaneers’ is not a subtle show but it has been precision-tooled to hit all the beats that fans of romantic period dramas expect of the genre.”
The biggest differences between ‘The Buccaneers’ 2023 and the novel (so far)
While “The Buccaneers” series seems to, at least vaguely, be following Wharton’s plot, it has also included a few twists and deviations to amp up the drama.
The show offers a modernized, more feminist take on the book. The characters mostly use modern language and express modern ideas. For example, at a debutante ball, after an Englishman makes rude comments about American women, Nan (Kristin Froseth) tells him, “Imagine them as human beings with no interest in your opinions and not caring if you’re a king or a mister.”
The show seems designed to appeal to a modern, post-”Bridgerton” audience. In fact, as BBC declared, “This Apple TV+ costume drama is the new ‘Bridgerton.’”
Here are the biggest differences between the series and the novel — so far.
1. Nan is illegitimate
This plot point in the show is a huge deviation from “The Buccaneers” novel. After being presented to society at the debutante ball, Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse) blows up at her sister, blaming her for taking all the attention. In her anger, Jinny blurts out a shocking revelation: Nan is not their mother’s (Christina Hendricks) child.
Jinny then explains that one of their father’s (Adam James) many affairs produced Nan. Their mother eventually forgave their father and raised Nan as her own.
This news sends Nan into an identity crisis and it throws a wrench in Nan’s future. As an illegitimate child, Nan could be looked down upon in respectable society if word gets out. Nan reveals the truth to Guy (Matthew Broome), who, although he had previously intended to propose to Nan, runs away.
And when Theo, Duke of Tintagel (Guy Remmers), proposes to Nan, Guy tells her that if the truth is revealed while Theo and Nan are married, the connection could ruin Theo. Guy ultimately decides to refrain from telling Theo the truth — for now — but the truth looms large over Nan and Theo’s engagement.
2. At first, Guy wants to marry Nan for her money
In the first episode, Guy and Nan bump into each other in an adorable meetcute: Guy watches Nan fearlessly scaling a wall to retrieve an earring that fell from Conchita (Alisha Boe) a few stories up. They bump into each other again in England at the debutante ball and, once again, sparks fly.
We’re led to believe that their meeting is entirely coincidental, but later on, it’s revealed that that’s not exactly true. We learn that, like many families of the British aristocracy at the time, Guy’s family is quickly becoming bankrupt. Guy’s father asks him if he’s met “the American,” whom we presume is Nan, and Guy reveals that he has. His father then presents him with an engagement ring.
Guy casually meets up again with Nan at Dick’s (Josh Dylan) family’s country cottage. Conchita tells Dick that he begged for an invite, but Guy tells Nan that Conchita insisted he come. It’s clear that he came to propose to Nan, but runs away when Nan reveals the truth about her parentage. But wait! Guy seems to have really fallen for Nan and quickly returns — only to see Theo propose to Nan.
3. Also, Guy’s mother dies
This isn’t integral to the plot (so far), but when Nan and Guy meet in New York, he reveals that his mother has died. He is, understandably, devastated. Nan comforts him each time they meet.
This is most likely a plot device used to bring Nan and Guy closer together, and it seems to work. Guy ultimately seems to actually fall in love with Nan.
4. Mabel has a romance with Dick’s sister
The romance between Mabel and Dick’s sister is, unsurprisingly, a major deviation from the original plot. In the novel, Mabel (Josie Totah) marries a wealthy American. While time will only tell if that will happen in the show, so far “The Buccaneers” has written romance between Mabel and Dick’s disapproving sister, Honoria (Mia Threapleton).
What is ‘The Buccaneers’ rated and why?
Despite its many comparisons to Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” “The Buccaneers” is rated TV-14 (in comparison to a TV-MA rating for “Bridgerton”).
The show contains the following:
- Brief nudity.
- Sexual situations.