The Buccaneers, on BBC One (UK)
IMDb; PBS (archived); Wikipedia
streaming sites: BritBox; iTunes; Vudu
This is based on a novel by Edith Wharton (which I've never read), which was unfinished at the time of her death in 1937. In 1993, the story was completed by a screenwriter for the sake of this miniseries, which aired in 1995 (February in the U.K., October in the U.S.). I started watching the miniseries when it aired in October '95, and I remember being quite interested in it because I was familiar with several of the actresses from other things (and because many of the characters were quite easy on the eyes). But I didn't get to see very much of the miniseries, because of some sort of VCR mishap. (There were 5 episodes in the U.K., but 3 when it aired on Masterpiece Theatre in the U.S. And now I don't remember exactly how much I'd seen and how much I missed.) So I've been waiting a long time to watch it again, and I finally got it on DVD, which I'm watching in June 2014. I didn't remember anything specific from the first episode, when I saw it this time, but it also didn't seem unfamiliar, I guess. Incidentally, I also wanted to mention that in 1995, I had just started college, and I had a Lit & Comp class, for which I had to keep a journal. And I mentioned watching the miniseries in it. I still have it now, and skimmed through it, expecting to see mention of being upset at not getting to see the whole thing, but I only saw one mention of it, from when I started watching it. Ah well.
Episode 1: Invasion
Anyway, it's about this group of young women from America. The episode begins in Newport, Rhode Island, and while I never noticed this, I think the setting may have transitioned to New York at some point. (Or not. If it did transition, it could have been immediately after the first scene, or not til later. Or it may have gone back and forth between the two cities. I'm terribly unobservant.) I'm not sure exactly when the story is set, but it's certainly sometime after the Civil War, probably closer to the end of the 19th century.
There's this girl named Conchita "Connie" Closson (Mira Sorvino), whose mother (played by Elizabeth Ashley, familiar to me from Evening Shade) comes from a family that owns a plantation in Brazil, and stepfather owns a casino (and other profitable enterprises) in New York. Connie is friends with a pair of girls, Virginia "Jinny" St. George (Alison Elliott) and her younger sister Annabel "Nan" St. George (Carla Gugino), whose father is fairly wealthy, though apparently his continued success depends on some kind of business deal with Connie's stepfather. Another friend of theirs is Lizzy Elmsworth (I'm not familiar with the actress who played her, but her mother was played by Conchata Ferrell). Anyway, Nan gets a British governess named Laura Testvalley. She's upset about this at first, apparently because her sister and their friends teasingly call her a baby. (I really have no idea how old any of the girls are supposed to be, but I tend to assume, in things like this, that the characters are a bit younger than the actresses. And Nan doesn't look younger to me than the others... and in at least one respect, she seems... well, never mind.) Um... also, when Jinny and Nan's father returns from New York (or to New York, or whatever) with Mr. Closson, they're accompanied by a young English lord named Richard Marabel, who had spent some time in Brazil, where he first met Connie a few months ago. And it turns out Miss Testvalley had previously been a governess to Richard's sisters, as well has having had a relationship with Richard himself (which I expect his family knew nothing of).
There was some high society party to which Lord Richard and Connie were invited, but... I don't want to get into that particular plotline. I'll just say it ended with Jinny and Lizzy ruining their chances of entering high society, themselves. So, Miss Testvalley suggests to Mrs. St. Geroge that Jinny and Nan go to London (though Nan hadn't been at the party). It's not long before Richard marries Connie, and the two of them move back to England, to stay with his parents and sisters. But it turns out that Richard's parents, Lord and Lady Brightlingsea (pronounced "Brittlesee"), don't like him much. Also, Richard has an older brother named Lord Seadown (pronounced "Seeden"), who is involved with a woman named Idina Hatton (Jenny Agutter), of whom his parents don't approve.
Eventually the two St. George girls, along with their mother and Miss Testvalley, go to England to visit Connie. (Richard isn't around, at this point; I'm not really sure what he's doing.) And Testvalley has a friend named Jackie March (Connie Booth, from Fawlty Towers), an American who's been in England for 30 years, ever since being engaged to, and jilted by, Lord Brightlingsea. Miss Testvalley introduces the girls to Miss March, who will present them to the Brightlingseas. The next day, Connie and Seadown take Jinny and Nan to meet a friend named Guy Thwaite and his father, Sir Helmsley. Guy immediately takes an interest in Nan. And not long after that, Miss March arranges for the St. Georges to rent Idina's cottage; we'll call it a "cottage" even though it's bigger and nicer than most people's houses, just not these people. (Idina in need of money, particularly so as not to be a burden to Seadown, as she fears his parents will try to force him into marrying someone else. Possibly one of the American girls, so she asks Miss March to see to it Seadown doesn't visit the cottage while they're there.) Lizzy also soon shows up to stay with them. And Miss Testvalley tells them that Miss March calls the American girls "The Buccaneers" (because they've invaded the country, so to speak). They all like the nickname, and it seems they plan to live up to it.
Anyway, the whole show is basically about wealth versus titles, I guess. The American girls come from families with money, and the British men come from families with titles, but not wealth. (Though this is one of those shows that always confuse me by the fact that the titled families clearly have enough money to retain their mansions and servants and whatnot, even while talking like they have no money.) And it's also about the different cultural traditions people hold, for example the British idea of men marrying into money, whereas the Americans (or their fathers) may not think they should be required to support their husbands. (Of course, some of the British folks, like Guy, may prefer to earn their own money, anyway.) It's all rather complicated, and again I get confused because I've seen other, similar things where it's the women who are supposed to marry for money, so it all seems rather arbitrary. Still, I found it a fun and amusing story with reasonably likable main characters. And I look forward to the rest of the series.
Episode 2: Conquest
Well, this episode begins with Miss Testvalley recapping what happened last time, and she mentions that she started working for the St. Georges in 1873. I had expected it to be a bit later than that, since at one point someone had said something about studying the American Civil War when he as a boy, which must have been ongoing at the time, if this is 1873... and I thought it had been over by the time he studied it. Well, whatevs. Oh, also by the end of the first episode, I guess the girls had started calling Miss Testvalley "Val," so I'll do so from now on.
Um... Nan meets a fellow named Julius, Duke of Trevennick (James Frain), and they quickly hit it off. Lizzy is interested in Seadown, but he's more interested in Jinny, simply because her father is rich. Of course, Miss March allows Seadown to visit the cottage, in spite of Idina forbidding it, and when Idina finds out about him and Jinny... of course she's not pleased. Oh, and incidentally, something that bothered me in the first episode was people pronouncing "marquis" as "mar-quiss" rather than "mar-kee," which is, as far as I recall, the only way I've ever heard anyone pronounce it. I've seen any number of British things and probably some French things, and maybe I have heard it pronounced "mar-quiss" before, but it is not presently within my power to believe that. (Or if I had heard it, maybe I simply dismissed it as a mispronunciation that one particular character made.) But in this episode, Mrs. St. George pronounced it "mar-kee," and Miss March corrected her. So... I dunno, it's an utterly irrelevant detail, and I'm probably wrong to be troubled by it... but I can't help it, it just rubs me the wrong way to... um... hear people pronounce the word the way it's spelled. Yeah.
Anyway... the episode surprised me by being about 24 minutes shorter than the first one. Even given that, I felt like a good deal more than 24 minutes worth of extra plot developments happened in episode 1, compared to this episode. Um... Jinny marries Seadown, and is then surprised to find he married her for money rather than love. Which strikes me as odd, because I saw no indication of either of them loving the other, before they married. And yet she's upset. Meanwhile, Nan, in spite of liking Julius, was still apparently more interested in Guy. And then he told her he was going to South America to build a railroad, which upset her. (Incidentally, she mentioned that she's 18, so now I at least know one girl's age.) And soon thereafter, Julius asks her to marry him, which seems to take her completely by surprise, and thus ends the episode. ...Oh, but I should say that before that, Julius had talked to Val about his intentions, and she advised him to wait. He likes Nan mainly because she's disinterested in things like money and titles... which is apparently a "childish" quality, which Val attributes to her being a child. I found this interesting, the idea that Nan might change as she grows up, because... well, it reminds me how I've often thought that I'll never really grow up, but some younger people with whom I might have things in common very well might, you know... outgrow me. Or something. (This is irrelevant, of course, because I'd never have any sort of romantic relationship, in any event.)
What else am I forgetting? Oh yes: Connie is pregnant. At least, Richard said so, but I never heard anyone else say it. It's interesting because Richard and Connie rarely see each other... and because there's a good chance she may have taken a lover. Also in this episode, Val meets Sir Helmsley Thwaite, and I feel as if something could develop between them. And oh, at one point Nan told Guy that her mother had married when she was 18, but she'd grown up. Which I rather question... Mrs. St. George is certainly... well, every bit as beautiful as her daughters. But I should think her personality is considerably less grown-up, at least in my opinion. And... I think Lizzy is beginning to get involved with a young man named Hector Robinson, who I guess is somehow involved in politics. And there are some vaguely political discussions between Mr. St. George and Lord Brightlingsea. So, all in all, I feel like this episode is sort of transitional, setting up certain future events, more than containing any major developments (other than Jinny's marriage, of course). Still, it was reasonably fun.
Episode 3: Ambush
The story this time begins with Jinny giving birth to a son, which certainly makes Seadown's parents happy. Jinny herself doesn't have much to be happy about, as Seadown continues to spend much of his time with Idina. Meanwhile, Nan is now married to Julius, though it seems they haven't been intimate. And she has to learn about all the responsibilities of being a duchess. And Connie has definitely been sleeping with a guy named Miles. She rarely sees Richard, and I don't really know what he's been up to... or with whom... but he does show up to deliver some troubling news. And... well, Nan and Julius eventually seem like they could get closer, but then end up spending the episode getting farther and farther apart. And Mr. St. George loses his fortune, which means the Brightlingseas will have to start spending less. Oh, and Val was working for the Brightlingseas now, I guess for the same girls whose governess she used to be (so I'm not sure why they need her again). And I guess Connie gets pregnant for a second time, but this time it's certainly not Richard's child (it's Miles's). And we don't see much of Lizzy in this episode, but she's now married to Hector, who has become quite rich. (So in spite of not gaining a title, it seems Lizzy made the best choice of husband, both in terms of finance and love.) And the episode ends with Guy returning to England, after two years away.
Episode 4: Capture
Okay, what can I say about this episode? Um... Lizzy and Hector now have two babies. And Mr. St. George's fortunes have turned for the better, again... and he's obviously far more friendly with Lizzy's husband than either of his own sons-in-law. (Hector himself has never gotten on very well with Lord Brightlingsea, for political reasons.) Meanwhile, things continue to get worse between Nan and Julius. And Guy is hoping to be elected to parliament, which would require the support of Julius... which is problematic, considering all the gossip about Guy and Nan. And Idina's in pretty sad shape, since Seadown is no longer interested in her (but certainly not interested in his wife, Jinny, either). On a brighter note, things seem to be developing nicely between Val and Sir Helmsley, even if they're still not technically together, or anything. (Theirs is the slowest relationship to get under way of anyone, which makes me wonder if they're the only characters in this miniseries who are actually British... though I suppose it's not fair to judge when all the other couples are half American.)
Episode 5: Plunder
So, um... after spending several months away from Julius in the previous episode, Nan returns to him, but things still aren't good between them. And one night she discovers something about him that had been, I think, mildly hinted at earlier, something that makes her feel more distraught than ever. (Though I felt like a parallel possible development had been hinted at even more strongly about Nan herself, and nothing ever came of that. So I suppose I was mistaken.) And finally, with encouragement from Val, she runs off with Guy. This naturally greatly upsets Julius's mother. And it upsets Guy's father, who is not pleased at the role Val played in all this. Oh, and already there was tension between Guy and Julius for political reasons: Guy wanted to abolish the House of Lords, in parliament. And... various other things happen, but nothing really worth mentioning, I feel.
Incidentally, Wikipedia mentions how Wharton's manuscript ended, and I cannot for the life of me figure out exactly where that fits within the context of the miniseries. I suppose it doesn't really matter. Anyway, also according to Wikipedia, the ending has been criticized for being "too American" and "too un-Whartonlike" (which I think is ironic, since Wharton was American, though considering I've never read any of her novels, I'm not really qualified to comment). And criticized as well for having too happy an ending, though I'd say it's really only happy for two people. For everyone else, it's... well, I don't know what, but certainly not happy. Personally, I found the ending sort of sudden and a bit weak, as well as just leaving far too many things unresolved, for my taste. I liked the first episode by far the best, but ever since then, it just seemed to me to focus far too much on Nan. She always seemed like the main character, but by the end the other three Buccaneers hardly even seemed like supporting characters. So... if the series had remained as strong as it started, I would have rated it a bit higher than I ultimately did. But I generally felt that each episode was weaker than the one before it, which is rather disappointing. Still, there were great acting and production values throughout. And I'm glad to have finally seen the whole thing.