We spoke to writer Katherine Jakeways, director Susanna White, and producer Beth Willis about the new series
BY DIVA STAFF, IMAGE BY APPLE TV+
It’s 1870s London. The cobbled streets of London aren’t quite ready for the gang of fun-loving Americans who have just arrived.
Apple TV+’s new show The Buccaneers, based on the unfinished novel of the same name by American novelist Edith Wharton, explores the culture clash which ensues when this band of women descend on tightly-corseted British society. Starring Kristine Froseth, trans icon Josie Totah, and Alisha Boe, the series gripped fans the minute the trailer used Olivia Roderigo’s song all-american bitch.
Following the release of the first episode yesterday (8 November), we spoke to The Buccaneers’ writer Katherine Jakeways, director Susanna White, and producer Beth Willis about the new series.
It’s rare for films and shows to have an all-female team. Have you experienced this before in your career, and what was it like working in such a team for this show?
BETH WILLIS: It was a first for me and an absolute joy. Spending six months with brilliant, bright, funny women was incredibly inspiring. The atmosphere was completely different.
SUSANNA WHITE: The closest experience I’ve had working with an all-female team was when I directed the series Jane Eyre, starring Ruth Wilson and adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s novel by Sandy Welch. It was Katherine’s writing that drew me to the project – all the young women felt completely authentic in their emotions and attitudes which isn’t always the case in period drama. Katherine’s attitude was “What if one of us had been born then” – what would we think and feel if the only way to have power was to get married? What would the pressures be like at something like the Debutante Ball? While embracing the surface glamour she saw beyond it to something very real.
We saw nothing odd about having so many women behind the show but it was funny sometimes when we were on a Zoom or casting – people would come into the room and you’d see them doing a double take as they didn’t expect so many women to be in charge. Often people commented on it.
KATHERINE JAKEWAYS: I’ve never experienced it before. And it was a real treat. In the end, we had some great men working on the show too of course, but for the development process and in the first months of filming, the producers, the director, the execs and all the writers were women. And we were all equally obsessed with the show and the characters as well as with trying to make it as classy and as fun and as truthful as it could be. We wanted the female characters to feel like real women and to speak to each other the way we all speak to our friends, sisters and mothers. And we all absolutely understood the way we wanted the show to feel. It was like we had a shorthand.
What do you hope viewers take away from the LGBTQIA storylines and characters’ journeys?
BETH WILLIS: I hope that although the show is set in the 1880s, the feelings – the fears, obstacles and pleasures – will feel familiar and that our character’s journeys will be inspiring for viewers in 2023.
SUSANNA WHITE: I hope people will take away the universality of our story. It has always seemed to me a complete accident of fate when our particular piece of DNA arrives on the planet. I’ve always been very grateful I wasn’t born in the nineteenth century when your fate was entirely decided by your looks or your wealth and when women had to hide their intelligence to avoid their currency going down.
Of course, people had the same questions of identity and sexuality when they were dressed up in corsets and long skirts. How painful and confusing must it have been to have lived in a world where conventional heterosexual transactional marriage was often the only option.
KATHERINE JAKEWAYS: We want all of our characters to feel familiar and truthful and to represent people and stories we know in 2023. The LBGTQIA story, which in this first season mainly belongs to Mabel and Honoria, was so important to get right. Inevitably their relationship has to play out in secret, and we hope their fears and insecurities come across. As Mabel says, the two of them don’t get to dance in public or have a ring or a party to celebrate their love, the way all her friends do. But we were also keen for their relationship to be just as joyful, playful and aspirational as every other love story in the show. We wanted to allow them to dance, laugh, and feel like any of our couples, whilst also highlighting that their lives, inevitably, have extra complications.
It was great watching trans icon, Josie Totah, what was it like working with her?
BETH WILLIS: It was love at first sight. She is so smart and brings with her all her years of wisdom and experience. She looks after everyone and is so observant and dry. We love her!
SUSANNA WHITE: Josie was wonderful. She felt like such a vibrant, truthful choice – the moment she read for us we knew we had our Mabel. She always wanted a look which was very femme but a bit edgy, which I loved.
KATHERINE JAKEWAYS: Josie’s a star. We often had to remind ourselves that she’s the youngest of all the girls because she’s so experienced and knowledgeable about making television. She was really respectful of the process, but also she really wanted to be involved, and she and I talked a lot about Mabel’s scenes and about making her feel as real as possible.
Female friendship is such a huge part of this series, what was important to you when it came to portraying this dynamic?
BETH WILLIS: We wanted the friendships to feel “real real” rather than “TV real”. Friendships are messy – you love someone one day and loathe them the next. You compare yourself to them, you’re jealous – but they are also your everything. The people you trust, love and laugh with – sheer happiness and sisterhood. We’re so used to seeing characters in period dramas who are straight-backed and drinking tea in a morning room. We wanted our gang to rip off their corsets as soon as they were out of public view, giggle at the wrong moments and be as real as we are.
SUSANNA WHITE: In the world I described where women’s choices were so often limited to transactional heterosexual marriages, an area where women really could have power was through friendship. Standing up for each other and presenting a united front could be a form of resistance as well as just being pure fun – that’s a crucial aspect of the series – its humour – Katherine is a brilliant writer of comedy and wit often provides a form of escape too.
KATHERINE JAKEWAYS: To make it feel real! So often when you’re watching female friendships, you end up thinking “No woman would ever say that” or “No woman would ever behave like that around her friends”. And those relationships are often the most enduring ones we have in our lives, so let’s get them right! Also, women laugh all the time and will defend each other to the hilt against a man, but the truth is we’re not always nice to each other. We can all take the piss and go too far and make mistakes and bad choices. And our friends aren’t always people we totally agree with or think are doing the right thing 100% of the time. How boring would our friends be if they were always well-behaved? We’re all complicated! But our female group of friends are the most important people in our lives. So we wanted to get that right and for the love, those girls have for each other to be the absolute backbone of the show.
We’ve definitely seen a boom in period dramas in recent years, why do you think audiences love them so much?
BETH WILLIS: There is a wish fulfilment feeling to the clothes and the landscape – and in The Buccaneers – castles hanging on the edge of a cliff above crashing waves and gorgeous sunsets… it’s romantic. But also it’s our history and that’s endlessly fascinating. What were female friendships like then? How do they compare to now? That’s why we wanted to make our gang feel as energetic and real as we could make them – so viewers could see themselves in our characters.
SUSANNA WHITE: I think people have always loved the costumes and the settings but the difference in recent years is that both that more women have been behind them and they have been given a more contemporary edge, plus strong female characters have come to the fore, from what Sophia Coppola did with Marie Antoinette to wit and verve of The Great. I wanted our girls to feel you could get to know them at any point in history – when they arrive in England for the first time and stand up in the carriages whooping, as their mothers and governess struggle to control them, they could be girls in a limo on a hen night now…
KATHERINE JAKEWAYS: They’re irresistible escapism! You get to revel in the costumes and the locations without too many reminders of the grimness of real life. I hope with “The Buccaneers,” we get to kind of have our cake and eat it… we’ve kept the gorgeous cast, the spectacular costumes, the soaring love stories, the houses, and the landscapes, whilst also adding a relatability. The show feels less distanced than period dramas can sometimes be because there are storylines, relationships, and dialogue that feel so contemporary.
You can watch the first episode of The Buccaneers on Apple TV+ now!
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