Bookish Viewing: The Buccaneers

I really, really love shows like Downton Abbey, movies like Pride & Prejudice, and BBC minseries. I enjoy all of it: the history, the unavoidable romance, the costumes and hair, the accents, and the engaging plots!

Additionally, many (if not most) of these stories are retellings of novels – novels that are on my miles high to-be-read pile. As most of us readers know, we won’t ever get to half the books we plan to read – it breaks my heart just thinking about the amazing stories I’m missing out on – and, for me at least, I know that many of the books I will end up not having time for are those huge, often dusty, tomes that such shows and movies are based on. It isn’t at all that I don’t want to read them, but, at least in my case, that there are other things that I feel I should be reading to keep up with the patrons in my library. While some readers will be searching for older, classic titles, many have found them on their own and are now looking for more recently published read-alikes… inevitably, I end up reading those newer titles so I’m able to confidently recommend them. 

Of course, this is why I am so incredibly thankful for things like BBC miniseries and PBS! They’re the perfect way to experience those books I’m forever (sadly) pushing lower on my TBR pile! Sure, the television or movie version probably isn’t as good as the original book and there are probably differences between the two that would annoy me if I had read the book, but I’ll never know (well, unless I do get to read the book, in which case, hurrah!). 

Now perhaps I’m just late the party and everyone else has already watched these various miniseries and movies, but I’ve decided to post about what I’ve been watching. Of course, in some cases I won’t actually be sure whether or not the movie or show is a very accurate representation of the novel (though BBC does tend to be quite true to originals), but I will be able to recommend that you do (or don’t!) spend your t.v. watching time on this or that particular movie, show, or miniseries!

And, if you’re anything like me, you might just be even more motivated to make time for that classic novel… and everything else the author has written!

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The Buccaneers (IMDb) (Netflix)
Based on: Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers
Released: 1995 – BBC
Description: Nan and Jinny St George have both wealth and beauty in generous supply. In the New York society of the 1870s, however, only those with old money can achieve the status of the elite, and it is here that the sisters seem doomed to failure.
Nan’s new governess, Laura Testvalley, herself an outsider, takes pity on their plight and launches them instead on the unsuspecting British aristocracy. Lords, dukes, marquesses and MPs, it seems, not only appreciate beauty, but also the money that New York’s nouveaux riches can supply.
A love story of love and marriage among the old and new moneyed classes, The Buccaneers is a delicately perceptive portrayal of a world on the brink of change.


Review:

I watched this miniseries after it popped up on my Netflix recommendations around the same time I was compiling a list of read-alikes for fans of Downton Abbey, which ended up including Edith Wharton’s novel by the same title.  Someone, I hadn’t ever heard of The Buccaneers before – in either novel or miniseries form – but I’m now very curious about Edith Wharton and her writing. 

The 4-part series, set in the 1870s, follows the stories of four well-off American girls. For the most part, all four girls are well off and, during this time, wealth bought status, but not necessarily respect (especially from those born into positions of status). Nan, arguably the main character of the series, is the youngest of the girls and under the care of her new governess, Miss Testvalley, who her mother has hired to achieve the manners and class required of the family’s new social status. Miss Testvalley convinces the St George’s that a season in England is just the thing to raise Nan’s prospects and lure in a marriageable match.

In no time, all four girls have found husbands. The girls assume that now they’re set to experience happy lives full of leisure and love, but live is never simple and marriage doesn’t necessarily equal happiness… and money, which brought their supposed happy endings in reach, might just end up being the cause of their unhappiness.

When I started watching The Buccaneers I had no idea how scandalous it would be. Those who have watched or read P&P are familiar with the fact that marriages were often made for reasons distinctly unrelated to love, but it’s the love matches that are the focus of the stories and the part that we readers and viewers remember. The Buccaneers, in contrast, is bursting with these unhappy matches and stories, but they’re, at least at the beginning, completely unexpected. The girls are so full of hope and romanticized ideals that you can’t help but believe they’ll all get their happily ever afters. And their is true love and happiness, but there are horrible things that happen to. Affairs, illegitimate children, STDs, rape, longing, hate, forgiveness… 

There is so much drama and emotion in this 5 hour series. I watched it over a period of 5 days, but I thought about it constantly and even now find myself reflecting on the events of the story, the characters, and the themes. When I first started part one of the series, I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but, by the end, I was enthralled and completely blown away. 

Of course, now I’d really like to read the novel and other works by Edith Wharton. I’ve found a couple short story collections of her work, so I might start there. I’ve also done some reading and it turns out that Wharton never finished The Buccaneers, she died before it was finished and it was later completed by Marion Mainwaring. I’m not sure how Wharton would have finished the novel, but, in my opinion, Mainwaring’s conclusion was perfect. The novel ends on a hopeful, even happy, note, which soothed my heart after the roller coaster of emotion I’d experienced during my viewing.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Character: Nan (Played by Carla Gugino) (though I also really loved Conchita and Lizzy!) 

Crush: Guy Thwaite (Played by Greg Wise)




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