Ahistorical amusements

Published date14 November 2023
Publication titleSignal
I’M somehow an Edith Wharton fan without ever having read one of her books. I hope that’s allowed. I’m even more of a fan now, because she has given us The Buccaneers. By which I mean Apple TV+’s take on her unfinished, posthumously published novel of the same name, starring all sorts of young actors — who all merge into one beneath my benevolent-but-ageing croneish eye — as characters who get into all sorts of ahistorical costumes and scrapes but power the whole thing along with sheer youthful exuberance

We meet the gaggle of girls whose romantic fortunes we will track over eight energetic episodes, as they prepare for the grand New York society wedding of one of their number, Conchita (Alisha Boe). She is known as Connie in the book but they call her Conchi here, which I find ineffably upsetting and feel some etiquette or linguistic expert should have been on hand to prevent it. Anyway — Conchita is due to marry Lord English of Englishtown (actually Lord Richard Marable, played by Josh Dylan, but I’m conveying the vibe here, not the facts). She almost doesn’t because his parents Senior Lord and Lady English (played by Anthony Calf and Fenella Woolgar, last seen as Margaret Thatcher in The Reckoning and only slightly less terrifying here) Englishly object. Her best friend, and our main heroine, Nan (Kristine Froseth) saves the day, and lucky she does, because Richard has already impregnated his fiancee and time is a-wasting.

At the behest of governess Miss Testvalley (Simone Kirby), he offers to have them all over to London for the season, to be presented to the queen at the debutantes’ ball so that they can stick it to the New York old money snobs and keep Conchi company as she incubates the fruit of his pallid loins. Nan’s mother Mrs St George (Christina Hendricks, doing a lot with a small part) is delighted that she can now do her duty by her two very different daughters — lively, curious Nan and insecure, conventional Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse) who is soon begging her younger sibling to stop bounding around ‘‘being fascinating all over the place’’. Older sisters can relate.

And then we’re off, galloping across the Atlantic so that the girls can blow fresh, spirited American air through stuffy...

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