Thursday, February 7, 2013

"The Buccaneers is a delight.”

The lissome lasses of BBC's The Buccaneers.
“Don't expect him to be entertaining” the American heiresses are forewarned as they approach the ancestral castle of their British host, “a man's dullness is always in proportion to his distinction.” Yet the game of xenophobia in The Buccaneers is a two-way street: “I think I like 'em better like that,” says an English lord of the young women, “divinely dull . . . just the quiet bearers of their own beauty, like the priestesses in a Panathenaic procession.” Based on Edith Wharton's last novel, this 1995 BBC series shares with Downton Abbey a focus on marriage between a rich American and a titled Englishman in want of ready cash. The American University's media magazine Current probed various reactions to the tv adaptation of the story, which Wharton left incomplete.
Suspicious Britons could see that the mini-series ended more happily than readers would expect of a Wharton story, and the dramatization contained racy, modern elements of homosexuality and marital rape that weren’t in the book. The ending was true to Wharton, however. Though the author died before finishing the book, she had sketched out a similar conclusion in her synopsis of the plot.
Wharton’s saga centers on five vital and ambitious American girls (reduced to four in the series). Ostracized as “nouveau riche” by unforgivingly snobbish New York society, they try their luck across the Atlantic. The girls are armed with beauty, freshness, wit and (most importantly) wealth, however, and they ultimately take their places in the equally rigid English society. The story follows the buccaneers’ rocky lives through marriage, pregnancy, affairs and divorce, focusing particularly on the fate of the youngest, most idealistic girl, Nan St. George, and her governess and mentor, Laura Testvalley. As Wharton characters do, the young women struggle with modernity and tradition, conformity and rebellion.

“Anyone hoping to whip themselves into a lather of moral indignation will be disappointed. For The Buccaneers is a delight.”

A young—and very corseted—Edith Wharton
“The BBC stands accused of sensationalism . . .” wrote Matthew Bond in the Times, summarizing the hullaballoo. “It stands accused of taking the grossest of liberties with Wharton’s work by introducing ‘modern’ story lines such as marital rape and homosexuality. But anyone hoping to whip themselves into a lather of moral indignation will be disappointed. For The Buccaneers is a delight.”
[Scriptwriter] Wadey said that the English audience was offended by the film’s mocking portrayal of the English aristocracy — a portrayal that she believes echoes up to modern times. “They still want to do things in a gentlemanly way; they are still contemptuous of Americans, of business, but still want the money.”
Wharton biographer Cynthia Griffin Wolff offers her own argument that The Buccaneers was a “fictional retrospective” of Wharton’s own life. Wolff wrote in her book A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton:
“Long ago, three-quarters of a century in the past, she began as a frightened child, desolate and lonely; and the lonely child had grown to timid womanhood, filled with confused longings, her character virtually obliterated with fear. And still, by some feat of intellect and passion and will, that nearly extinquished woman had confronted life and become, if not its master, at least its partner. The buoyant optimism of The Buccaneers suggests the jubilation with which the old woman’s intrepid spirit had succeeded in redressing the miseries of her youth.”


  1. Don't care about the "modern" elements introduced into this story - it is fantastically wonderful!! It has been one of my favorites for years now. Glad to see others revisiting it and rejoicing in its greatness.

  2. I may just buy Buccaneers, I have been a fan of Carla Gugino since she portrayed "poor little rich girl" Chica Barnfell in cult classic Troop Beverly Hills.

  3. I love her too! It's so weird ... I just watched The Singing Detective and then immediately she was turning up all over the place!

  4. The Baron first fell for Carla Gugino when she portrayed a poised, polished, and plugged-in agent (with admirable honesty and ethics) who crushed "Ari Gold" (Jeremy Piven), after first drop-kicking his pampered protege (and her former beau and own ex-client) "Vince" on "Entourage".... elsewhere, my favorite regular character was the awesome "Johnny Drama" - and a close second, "Lloyd!", Ari's erstwhile assistant... who becomes an agent who successfully reps Drama, fittingly, in the faux cartoon show "Johnny Bananas." Yes, I did watch that show faithfully... Props also to Ari's Wife...

    Quick question on this "Downtown Alley" phenomenon/show, about which I have no idea. I'm starting to wonder if it's worth a look... is it anything like my all-time favorite British Show, "Benny Hill?"