The Buccaneers is another one of my favourite adaptations and as I am trying to think of why, I am smiling to myself. It is just awesome! Ok, I will try to be a little more specific for you.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with this one, it is based on the unfinished last novel of American author Edith Wharton (more famous for her novels The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence). It was written in 1938, but it is set in late Victorian America and England. It chronicles the story of four spirited American girls, ostracized by New York high society as nouveau riche, who decide to venture to London for “the season” to improve their chances of acceptance and marriage when they get back to America. What happens, of course, is that they all end up making matches in England and mayhem ensues....
The fact that Edith Wharton based this story on real girls who had gone to England and married “well” but not always prudently (Conseulo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough and Jennie Jerome to Lord Randolph Churchill) , makes this very compelling. The adaptation is beautiful to look at first of all, filmed all on location and with gorgeous costumes. The late Victorian period is absolutely over the top with bustles and flounces and ribbons and.....well, you get the idea.
The casting was brilliant as well, with the main character of Nan St. George, played brilliantly by a young and delightfully plump Carla Gugino. You can really feel her emotions as she goes from a teenager trying to keep up with her beautiful sister Virginia (also well done by Alison Elliot) to a Duchess (whoops, plot spoiler). I won’t tell you how her marriage works out as that makes up a good part of the adaptation. Virginia’s marriage and those of her friends Conchita (Mira Sorvino having the time of her life) and Lizzy (Rya Kihlstedt) give this sweeping and enthralling miniseries lots of meaty plot.
I love the locations too, with the ever lovely Castle Howard in Yorkshire seen in all it’s glory as the country home of the Duke and Duchess of Trevenick. There are some gorgeous scenes in Newport, Rhode Island as well as the lovely Stanway House in Gloucestershire as Honourslove, the home of the dreamy Guy Thwaite. Mmmmm.....
As a warning to those with preteen girls, there are a few scenes which more protective parents may not want them to see. They actually may be appreciated for parents of older or more worldly teens as promoting some interesting discussions of sexual orientation and of venereal disease. Like I said, lots of juicy plot.
Many people posting to the Buccaneers IMDb page seem to have a lot of sympathy for the character of Julius (the Duke of Trevenick), and that the marriage may have turned out better if there had been better communication on both sides, as there was genuine affection in the beginning. Well, watch it and see if you feel this way, or see if he just creeps you out. These days, Julius would probably be diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome with his lack of people reading skills and his love of clocks. He is one of the most fascinating characters you will come across in any of these adaptations.
The five hour-long episodes give lots of play to the minor characters too, with Cherie Lunghi as the world weary governess Laura Testvalley, Michael Kitchen as a rather intriguing Sir Helmsley Thwaite and best of all James Frain as the uber complex Julius.
In any case, you should find Nan delightful and I hope you will agree that the role of Guy Thwaite was wonderfully played by a young Greg Wise. I haven’t read the novel and so I don’t know how much of the ending was added or changed from what Edith Wharton intended. I rather think that the ending is happier than she would have written, judging by her other works. This is probably good for me as I prefer the happily ever after.
There have been some critical comments about the melodrama of the production (more to do with the script than the production I think) and of some of the acting, but I am inclined to disagree on both counts. I like to think of the plot as chockablock full of great stuff rather than melodramatic, and there are very few moments where the acting is less than great.
Anyhow, I think you get the idea of what this production is like and if it sounds like one you want to see, then you are my kindred spirit. In any case, you will not be bored with this production as it pulls you along at a great pace, almost to the point of being hard to follow if you get distracted at a key moment. So have fun with this one if you haven’t yet seen it.
Oh and one more thing. If any BBC producers are reading this, I would like to suggest a dramatization of the life of Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill and the mother of Winston Churchill. A real life Buccaneer, she was a gorgeous, smart, rich American girl who led an absolutely astoundingly interesting life and charmed the aristocracy of England. Any takers for this?