The Buccaneers review: Sumptuous costume drama blasts us back to the 1870s

Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Kristine Frøseth, Aubri Ibrag and Imogen Waterhouse in The Buccaneers
Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Kristine Frøseth, Aubri Ibrag and Imogen Waterhouse in The Buccaneers

Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Kristine Frøseth, Aubri Ibrag and Imogen Waterhouse in The Buccaneers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person hunkering down for winter is in need of a dazzling new period drama. Thankfully, The Buccaneers, which premieres November 8 on Apple TV+, is here to oblige—and then some.

Based on Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel, this sumptuous costume drama takes us rattling back in time to the 1870s. There, we join a group of young Americans as they sail across the Atlantic Ocean to London. Why? Well, to seriously ruffle some serious feathers, obviously—the socialites’ joie de vivre clashes starkly with the almost comically stiff-upper-lippedness of the English—but also to try their hand at the capital’s marriage market. Which means, yes, you can expect meet-cutes, Darcy-esque declarations of love, men in extraordinarily tight trousers, and debutante balls aplenty.

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Obviously, we lost our hearts to proto-feminist Nan before the credits rolled on that first episode. The very definition of joie de vivre, she is deeply unimpressed by the pomp and circumstance of the English marriage marker. Hell, she goes so far as to compare the trussed-up débutantes to cattle and informs us, the audience, that she isn’t “supposed to be the main character”—that she doesn’t want to be the main character, largely because “girls are taught that every story is a love story or a tragedy.” She’s not here for love, everyone, so of course she finds herself caught in the middle of a love triangle: both Theo, Duke of Tintagel (Guy Remmers), and his closest friend, Guy Thwarte (Matthew Broome), fall head-over-heels for our young hero. Will either, though, have what it takes to win her heart and her hand?

It’s almost too easy to compare this one to Bridgerton: It’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s got a soundtrack filled with absolute bops (Taylor Swift, anyone?), and it’s given all of the stuffy era-appropriate costumes a 2023 makeover, courtesy of Giovanni Lipari, no less. A lot of people, too, have pointed out that The Buccaneers has followed in Bridgerton’s footsteps with its diverse casting choices, but we hasten to point out that this series isn’t just another example of color blind casting: Instead, characters like Conchita are written authentically, with the experiences of their ethnicity—and their sexuality and their financial background and more—woven in to their narratives.

That’s not to say that this is a perfect series. As well as being too short (yes, this is the rare instance of a series that would have benefitted from two or three more episodes, if only so we could get more invested in that aforementioned love triangle), it is filled to the brim with tropes aplenty, layered up on top of one another until we end up with something like … well, like a paint-by-numbers period drama-flavored trifle. Snatches of conversation are overheard and misinterpreted; handsome Darcy knockoffs stammer through their proposals most ardently, love triangles prove themselves to be pointy AF, elderly women clutch their pearls in horror, and men exit large bodies of water with their clothes clinging to them in manners that prove incredibly distracting.

Our American heroes, too, all feel as if they’re treading a path blazed by Saoirse Ronan’s Josephine March before them. And Nan, in particular, feels a woman caught out of time, a Gen-Z feminist trapped in a world of whalebone corsets and extreme sexism.

And yet, despite all of this, The Buccaneers is still incredibly watchable. The characters are endearing, the story never drags, and, despite the tropes, it often chooses to zag where we might expect it to zig (especially in its heart-shattering finale). It gifts us relatable female friendships (who hasn’t had a DMC—that is, a Deep and Meaningful Conversation—with one of their closest friends while they’re on the toilet?) and adventurous women seeking autonomy by any means. It tackles, too, some complex topics: domestic abuse, sexual identity, racism, and more are explored by the show’s writers throughout The Buccaneers’ fleeting eight-episode run.

Come the end of it all, we promise that you’ll want to be friends with each and every single one of our eponymous buccaneers. What’s more, you’ll be rooting for them all, in a world which treats women like birds in a gilded cage, to somehow secure that elusive happy-ever-after we’ve come to associate with period dramas (thanks a lot, Jane Austen). And you’ll almost definitely want a second season confirmed ASAP. We know we did after that cliffhanger of a finale.

The Buccaneers premieres November 8 on Apple TV+

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