'Let's see what the critics have to say'

The Buccaneers
A Collection of Article/Review Excerpts

a few reviews from an online video sales site:

Wonderful miniseries!

video cover Here we have five wonderful actresses who may not all be well known in the US, but they really should be.

Carla Gugino is Nan, the youngest Buccaneer, the romantic idealist who falls in love with Guy Thwaite (Greg Wise) but when he takes off to build a railroad, she accepts a the proposal of a duke (the wonderful James Frain) and ends up miserably unhappy.

Her sister Virginia (Alison Elliot) is a snob, but still her heartbreak is palpable when she actually realizes that her husband, Lord Seadown, actually married her for her money (she asks him straight out during their wedding reception) and later, she must endure his affair with the woman he always loved.

Mira Sorvino is Conchita, the independent girl who sets everything in motion by marrying Lord Richard, the black sheep second son who drinks and drinks and drinks. She never loses her spirit despite her gloomy surroundings and makes the best of what life has dealt her.

Rya Khylstedt is the last Buccaneer who marries a non-titled man and is the happiest of the lot.

Their tutor (Cherie Lunghi), of course, makes the ultimate sacrifice - she loves Guy's father, but then he discovers her deception and casts her aside - and the ending to her story is ultimate Wharton.

This miniseries is just plain wonderful, the four girls and their tutors are superbly played and the characters are very well defined. The supporting cast - Sian Phillips, Michael Kitchen, Greg Wise, James Frain, etc - is nothing short of great.


England will never be the same

This movie will appeal to those who enjoy Jane Austen productions like Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensability. It is set mostly in England of the late 1800's/early 1900's among the aristocracy, tracing the plight of four "noveau riche" American girls in English society..

The movie opens in America where the girls are scorned by the old money for being new money. One of the girls manages to attract the eye of a black sheep second son of an English lord, and the rest of the girls follow her to England after her marriage. The hope is that after spending a few months in the esteemed society of the English nobility, the New York aristocracy would have no choice but to accept the girls and their families into NY high society. While this would have worked, in England, however, things do not go as planned.

Unlike Jane Austen's movies, where the girls always make good marriages in the end, and the bad marriages are always portrayed in a comical way, The Buccaneers portrays events in a much darker, more realistic way. The aristocracy (which at this point in history is suffering, financially) is preying on the young women for their money, and the young women, some of them, are stalking the men for their titles. Most marriages are not made for love, and even in those that are, there is a price to be paid to maintain respectability. With main characters also including a governess, a high-priced mistress, and an un-married matchmaker, this movie also explores the alternatives for women who didn't wish to marry, and the very stiff consequences facing a woman who wished to be free.

This is a beautiful, provocative movie.




(AJF -- we agree!)


The Buccaneers

Sales Rank: 6,117
Release Date: 14 August, 2000
Media: VHS Tape
Number of Media: 3
Theatrical Date: 01 January, 1995
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Manufacturer: BBC Video

* Color
* Closed-captioned
* Box set


From the PBS Masterpiece Theater archives:

Episode Two: Now in England, the American girls begin to conquer the British bachelors. Lizzy sets up the engagement between Virginia St. George and Lord Seadown - much to the chagrin of jilted Idina Hatton. Julius, the Duke of Trevenick, proposes to a confused and love-torn Nan St. George. Lizzie Elmsworth marries the rising MP Hector Robinson. Conchita receives disturbing news from her roaming husband, Lord Richard .

Original broadcast date

The Buccaneers, Episode Two.

Episode 2
Extro by Russell Baker

The story of Nan's marriage to the Duke of Trevenick borrows a bit from the real-life marriage of New York heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough.

Miss Vanderbilt was more or less dragooned into the marriage, hated it, and finally succeeded in getting a divorce. The divorce made it a famous scandal in Edith Wharton's time. Julius, of course, does not marry for money. The Marlboroughs did. The eight and ninth Dukes between them had three rich American wives.

The seventh Duke's younger son, Lord Randolph, needed money for a political career and got it by marrying the American heiress Jenny Jerome in 1874. The marriage brought him three thousand pounds a year and produced a future prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Lord Curzon gave new meaning to the word "splendor" when he was viceroy to India and financed the spectacle with the money of his Chicago wife.

The Dukes of Manchester trolled America shamelessly for heiresses. The ninth Duke, goes the story, scoured the country saying only an Astor or Vanderbilt could save him, but settled for the Zimmermans of Cincinnati.

The foremost authority on the decline of the British aristocracy is the historian John Cannadine, who finds that from 1870 to the start of the first World War, more than a hundred sons of British peers married Americans.

What had happened? History had caught up with the aristocracy. It was invested in land at a time when farm prices were falling worldwide. Industry was the new engine of wealth. And of course it had borrowed heavily to build and maintain those enormous country houses we see in "The Buccaneers."

How would you like to have to meet the weekly payroll for keeping up Longlands, the Duke of Trevenick's estate?

For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.



Episode Three: All with English gentlemen husbands, the girls are settling down to the realities of married life. Virginia is left destitute by the Wall Street crash that has destroyed her once-wealthy father, and she is at the mercy of the poverty-stricken Brightlingseas. Nan finds herself isolated in the huge mansion, coping with the demands of marriage and life as a duchess. At the Longland Christmas party, Nan creates a scandal and then escapes to stay with Lizzy and Hector who are happily married. Nans frequent trips to Westminster to visit Guy Thwaite anger Julius, and he and Guy come to political and personal blows. Nan finds out a disturbing secret about Julius that will change her future forever

Original broadcast date


Episode 3
Intro by Russell Baker

We are now at the third and final installment of "The Buccaneers," Edith Wharton's last novel about four American girls of the 1870's who marry into British high society.

It's a story with one foot in America and one in England -- a fitting way for Mrs. Wharton to close out her career. She had lived her entire life half in America, half in Europe. It was France she loved best, and she eventually owned two houses there. The subject matter, though, was always America, from the bleak New England of "Ethan Frome" to the glittering New York of "The Age of Innocence."

Unlike her good friend Henry James, she was commercially successful from her first big novel "The House of Mirth," published in 1905.

There's a story about her arriving in a huge new car one day to take Henry James for a drive, and telling him she'd bought this gaudy machine with the profits from her last novel. Which prompted James to reply that with the profits from his last novel he had bought an unpainted wheelbarrow. With the profits of his next novel, he said, he might afford to paint it.

Now, as our final installment begins, the story focuses on Nan's unhappy marriage to the Duke of Trevenick. It's a theme that also fascinated Henry James -- the American heiress trying to survive the cultural trials of an alien society.

Let's see how Edith Wharton resolves it.

The Buccaneers, Final Episode.

Episode 3
Extro by Russell Baker

Nowadays, a Duke's wife running off with another man seems perfectly humdrum, hardly interesting enough to rate an appearance on one of those televised confessional shows.

In the 1870s, however, it would have been an amazing scandal, shaking society for years. After their first joy, the runaway wife and her lover would have faced a lifetime of struggle to live it down.

Edith Wharton's outline for an ending to "The Buccaneers" suggests that, had she lived, she might have written something not quite so happy as we've just seen. Though, as she once said, "Americans like tragedy with a happy ending."

Having Guy's outraged father break with Laura may have been intended as the signal of a sort of lingering tragedy to come. In her outline, she says that Laura, rejected by Sir Helmsley, is doomed to a life "alone with old age and poverty." Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?

So far as anybody knows, Edith Wharton herself had only one passionate love, and it didn't come until she was 46 years old. The man in the case was Morton Fullerton, an American, son of a clergyman, and Paris correspondent for the Times of London.

Apparently, he was brilliant and certainly charming. He had charmed Henry James, who sent him to meet Mrs. Wharton, and probably for the first time in her life, she was passionately enchanted by a man. Unfortunately, Fullerton couldn't resist enchanting people passionately.

The landscape was littered with his loves, male and female, married and single, Bohemian, bourgeois and aristocratic. The secret of his fatal charm is unclear. He was small, dapper, had big sad eyes over a huge mustache.

Whatever the secret, it had its effect on Mrs. Wharton. She fell for him like a ton of bricks (or body and soul). It didn't last long. Gradually she saw that Fullerton could never be more than a transient lover flitting off to wherever the next charmed victim called him, and she broke it off.

For the next thirty years she lived almost entirely in France, and during the first World War was honored by the French government for her work with war orphans and refugees. She died in 1937, age 75, and was buried in Versailles.

For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.


An interesting article about the matter of finishing someones "unfinished" work:

How did a Wharton mini-series end up with such a happy ending?

The BBC stood accused of sensationalism in the adaptation, one critic wrote, but the series turned out to be "a delight"

Nan and Guy By Jabeen Bhatti

Fifty-seven years ago, in her last novel, Edith Wharton told the story of The Buccaneers--a platoon of lovely American girls invading England, plundering titles and winning social success.

Then, last winter, the colonies were again attacking the sceptered isle. Americans were conspiring with the BBC to spice up and Americanize the five-part mini-series based on Wharton's novel.

The BBC/WGBH coproduction, which has its first U.S. airing Oct. 8-10, opened in February in Britain, and some British critics charged that the "ratings-grubbing American partners had insisted on a sexy ending," recalled Masterpiece Theatre Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton at the Los Angeles press tour this summer.

" 'Yes,' I thought, 'We've arrived! We're now seen as a too-powerful influence on British television."'

Indeed, 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. And how do they end up?

Wharton had finished only three-fifths of the novel's manuscript when she died in 1937. The unfinished book was promptly published along with Wharton's plot summary, including her sketch of the intended conclusion.

In 1993, the BBC assigned the screenwriting job to Maggie Wadey, whose credits include other adaptations of other 19th century novels, such as Northanger Abbey and Adam Bede.

About the same time, Viking published The Buccaneers as edited and completed by Marion Mainwaring.

(Stop reading here if you don't know the story and want to avoid "spoiling" it.)

Separately, Wadey and Mainwaring edited and rewrote the story and constructed their own endings, loosely following the story line that Wharton left in her summary: Nan leaves the duke she has married to run off with Guy Thwarte, whom she loves; they are aided by Nan's former governess, Laura Testvalley, who consequently loses her own suitor, Guy's father.

There are differences, however, in how Wadey and Mainwaring move the story to its conclusion. In Mainwaring's book, Nan is driven to drastic action by her deep alienation and the emptiness in her marriage to the duke and in her new life. When she finally meets up with Guy, she does so discreetly, though their relationship becomes public later on.

Wadey's Nan is also extremely unhappy, but it is marital rape and her husband's homosexuality that push her too far. And when she leaves him in the BBC/WGBH version, she makes a dramatic scene in front of friends and bystanders.

The Buccaneers, with a "ride into the sunset" ending that contrasts sharply with the desperation, despair and resignation of Wharton's other novels, readily appears to be a victim of "Americanization" and the tidy, cheerful Hollywood endings that Europeans mock.

In addition, the production came along at a time when the BBC was under rising pressure to support more of its costs through program sales overseas.

"The British press had a wider agenda that we wandered into," WGBH's Rebecca Eaton told Current. "They were already critical of the BBC and now were concerned that the BBC might be selling out to the Americans" by giving them too much influence over the selection of programs. And here was WGBH joining the BBC in producing the adaptation of an American novel, The Buccaneers.

Though complaints about the mini-series were heard, however, not every critic joined in the chorus.

"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."

Although Wadey says she didn't admire The Buccaneers as much as Wharton's The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth, she believed the screenplay needed to stress the novel's distinctive humor, lightheartedness and fast pace. It also needed to contrast these qualities with its dark underlying story, and the happy ending with the price of happiness.

While writing the screenplay, Wadey wanted to respond to the material as if it were her own, "following the current of the book itself, the impulses that were already there." Even if she hadn't known that Wharton planned a happy ending, she still would have written it that way. "It was the only ending possible--Nan had to break out of this marriage. It's the only thing that would have rang true."

Mainwaring agreed. "I would have created the same ending even without the synopsis--it seemed so fundamental," she said. In her view, the novel has a magical quality that permitted an ending rarely seen in Wharton's books. No one will ever know, despite Wharton's summary, whether she ultimately would have changed her mind and given The Buccaneers a different ending. Margaret B. McDowell, Wharton's biographer, said that Wharton's editor, Gaillard Lapsley, "expressed misgivings about publishing the unfinished work of an author so given to extensive revision."

The book "comprised some work as good as any she had ever done and some that she would never have allowed to appear as it stood," Lapsley wrote in his afterword of the first edition in 1938.

Defenders of the TV adaptation say the novel needed some alterations to become dramatically effective. Wadey said she inserted the elements of homosexuality and marital rape to modernize the plot and help its flow. She contended the additions were necessary to demonstrate why the heroine, Nan, had to leave the duke and seek divorce at any cost. Wadey's additions dramatized Nan's torture and gave her a motive beyond boredom or dissatisfaction.

Eaton defended Wadey's innovations, which she said were logical, historically plausible and dramatically useful. If Wharton hadn't died before completing the novel, she would have had to face its lack of dramatic tension herself, Eaton said.

"I'm sure the Edith Wharton police will question the changes," said Eaton, "but, for the most part, I think the audience will accept it, taking it as a drama rather than an adaptation."

Wadey calls the controvery hypocritical and "rather silly" and said the media were outraged over the film before they ever saw it. "Because it's a classic adaptation, people expected certain things. When the style and pace were different, it caused people to get worked up." She doubted that Wharton would have objected to the insertion of homosexuality--"she had an affair with a bisexual."

Scott Marshall disagrees. The deputy director of the Edith Wharton Restoration at the novelist's onetime home in Lenox, Mass., doesn't believe homosexuality figures in Wharton's book at all. "I felt disappointed that people feel the need to add to the novel to make it understandable to 1995 audiences," he said. To his mind, Nan's situation in the novel was serious enough to justify abandoning the duke and didn't require the embellishment.

While the series gives Wharton's characteristic lavish attention to manners, clothes and location, some critics said it lacked her spirit and her voice. Unlike the screen adaptations of Ethan Frome or The Age of Innocence, the mini-series does not use Wharton's lyrical language in narration. "It's very much her wording," as Mainwaring explained, "that carries her style." Though Eaton admitted she was tempted to use Wharton's narrative in places, she thought it was appropriate to keep Wharton in the dialogue and dispense with narration in a story with so much action.

Wadey said she tried to capture the Wharton spirit but said it's impossible to reproduce a book, that the two media are too different and that production is ultimately responsible for this. "Screenplay writers have no control over this, as they have little control over production." Still, she said she enjoyed The Buccaneers after it was made.

Director Philip Saville commented during the July press tour that the story was very much Wadey's and similar to the original novel. He noted that "a book is not a script and a script is not a film. ... And words when you put flesh and blood on them change. And when we did our television production, it became its own voice ... it had its own life ... and internal rhythm."

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 was born into the Old Money class that the Buccaneers first tried to invade. Saved from spinsterhood at 23, she married and eventually divorced Edward Wharton. In between, she published both nonfiction and fiction, traveled and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. Her bondage and liberation came in the form of a tumultuous love affair with American journalist Morton Fullerton.

Wharton's upbringing, values and the choices she faced were not so different from the ones she described in The Buccaneers. Wadey believes Wharton identified with Julius (the duke), Laura and Nan. "Julius was a victim of society like (Wharton), and this is ultimately a tale of society oppressing people, not men oppressing women."

The three characters represent different choices. The duke, oppressed by his unwanted role in the peerage, rebels against society with his choice of a wife. When the marriage fails, however, he returns to the society that refused to accept him as he was. Nan, stifled by society and her parents' expectations of her, finally breaks free of her obligations to be true to herself. And Laura, the conforming governess, finally gives in to her idealism, though it costs her the man she really wants.

Mainwaring thought Wharton identified most with Nan, seeing herself at that age as poetic, imaginative and unconventional. Consequently, she couldn't resist giving herself a happy ending.

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."


Carla Gugino on "The Buccaneers:


Q: One of your early roles was in The Buccaneers, which was a dramatic, "acceptable" role and good early opportunity for you at that age - versus a standard teen role, which might have pigeonholed you.

CG: Yes. Absolutely. Even though not that many people saw it here [in the USA], it was huge for me as an actor. And also because I always looked young, but as soon as I would speak, I didn't sound like a teenager, even when I was a teenager. I used to be made fun of as a kid for being very articulate. The Buccaneers was cool because the language was so mid-Atlantic, 1870s. And playing an Edith Wharton heroine. And she was such a courageous woman. This was a time when you got a divorce and you didn't just lose a couple of friends and your CDs got split up; you were banished from society. Plus, it was an incredible tour of England.


James Frain on his role in "The Buccaneers":

James Frain as Julius

......Shadowlands led to a slew of television work. He played a Liverpudlian (child-abuse survivor) in Prime Suspect III in 1993, an arrogant lieutenant in Soldier, Soldier the same year and was widely praised for his portrayal of Julius Trevenick, the duke involved in a covert gay affair in The Buccaneers in 1995. "That was a good break, a great role," he says.

~~ from "Who's That Boy" by Clive King The Times 1999

IMDB link for The Buccaneers

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