What is The Buccaneers based on and is it a true story?

What a show to fill the Bridgerton gap!

Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Kristine Frøseth, Aubri Ibrag and Imogen Waterhouse in The Buccaneers
(Image credit: Apple TV+/Future)

What is The Buccaneers based on and is it a true story? There's husband-finding frolics and culture clashes galore, and viewers are keen to know the inspiration behind the tale.

The Buccaneers is definitely bringing Bridgerton vibes, and if you're looking to fill the gap between seasons of the infamous period drama, it's definitely one for your what to watch this month list - and already has viewers wondering where The Buccaneers was filmed. But although there are clear comparisons, the tale of five wealthy young Americans arriving in England to find love has a lot to offer in its own right. Among the endless rounds of parties, culture clashes, sexual orientation exploring and female friendship in a world where men hold women to ridiculous societal expectations are just some of the themes explored.

Bridgerton spin-off Queen Charlotte was loosely based on a real Queen, and the illness King George has in the series is inspired by historical accounts of the real King's behaviour. With that in mind and comparisons between the Bridgerton universe, those tuning in to The Buccaneers are interested to know if it's based on a true story or what inspired it - here's what we know. 

Read our review of The Buccaneers here.

What is The Buccaneers based on?

The Buccaneers is based on the unfinished novel of the same name, by Edith Wharton. It was originally published unfinished at the time of her death, in 1937.

Wharton had left an outline detailing how the book would end, which was taken on and completed by Marion Mainwaring in 1993. When Wharton passed away, Time magazine wrote "Death last year ended Edith Wharton's work on a novel which might have been her masterpiece. She had written 29 chapters of a book apparently planned to run to about 35 chapters. The story had reached its climax; the characters were at a moment in their careers when they were compelled to make irrevocable decisions." 

They continued "While Mrs. Wharton left notes suggesting how she intended to end the novel, she gave no hint of how she intended to solve its moral and aesthetic problems. Last week her literary executor, Gaillard Lapsley, offered The Buccaneers as a novel complete as far as it went, but with its conclusion a puzzle which readers might work out themselves. Because it contains two first-rate characterizations, some sharp social satire and a tantalizing dilemma at the end, The Buccaneers makes far better reading than most novels, finished or unfinished."

Mainwaring came under much scrutiny and was on the receiving end of much criticism for finishing the novel. The Washington Post referred to her additions as a "Brave attempt," although ultimately concluded "What would the original author have made of the toe-curlingly trite scene where Nan is finally united with her true love, Guy Thwarte? We shall never know what Edith Wharton (who in old age developed a taste for, and great skill in, describing sexual encounters) would have made of it: But surely not this."

According to the Boston Globe, further outcry surrounded the decision not to let readers know exactly where Mainwaring's additions began. This resulted in John Updike from the New Yorker exclaiming "We have a text that in no typographical way discriminates between her words and Wharton’s, and that asks us to accept this bastardization as a single smooth reading unit." Meanwhile, The New Republic's Andrew Delbanco accused Mainwaring of "literary necrophilia."

Mainwaring responded to the criticism somewhat controversially. After initially saying "What they are really questioning is the effrontery of doing such a thing, aren’t they? That’s the basic question." She added "The argument that she was a great writer and how dare I? Well, I don’t think she was always a great writer, at least not as great as some. I wouldn’t have attempted this with a George Eliot or a Jane Austen novel. … Edith Wharton was not at her stylistic best here; that made it easier for me."

Imogen Waterhouse, Christina Hendricks and Simone Kirby in The Buccaneers

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Is The Buccaneers based on a true story?

The Buccaneers isn't based on a particular true story, but on the real incidence of wealthy American women travelling to England in the hope of marrying into British aristocracy, between the late 19th century, and the 1940's.

According to History, in the late 19th century the British nobility were suffering as a result of the Gilded Age. Financed by their agricultural holdings, the United States cultivating grain on their prairies hit England hard - with rural populations falling, the fortunes of British aristocrats went with it. 

Coveting the lives and status of British aristocracy, American socialites were often daughters self-made men, with no social acceptance due to their lack of 'old money.' Looking to increase their social standing, these so-called dollar princesses travelled across the pond to find their high-standing husbands. Although frowned on by both sides, the wealthy American women brought much-needed cash to the floundering English, and didn't mind trading their money for a title.

Winston Churchill's mother was one such 'dollar princess,' with Lord Randolph Churchill's parents only agreeing to the marriage because of the huge dowry that came with her. Similarly, American stock and railway heiress Frances Ellen Work traded her wealth for a title when marrying Baron Fermoy - their great-granddaughter Diana married into royalty, becoming the Princess of Wales. 

John Arnold and Alisha Boe in The Buccaneers

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

How many episodes of The Buccaneers are there?

There are eight episodes of The Buccaneers altogether. The first three episodes will drop on November 8, with new episodes then landing weekly until December 13. 

Explaining to Radio Times that the book was a starting point for the series, creator Katherine Jakeways said "We wanted it to feel modern, we wanted to use the opportunity to tell some modern stories through these girls. Inevitably, some of the storylines we have made up, and we have used the book as a jumping off point and taken them into storylines that we wanted to explore that felt modern and universal to women, no matter when they were born."

She added "The main thing we wanted to [show] was the female friendship of the book. That's the beating heart of it all and that's the main love story of the show, is these five girls and their support of each other, and their jealousies, and the fact that they are like any group of friends at any time. And that is all in the book. So I hope that readers of the book will feel it's faithful, and that Edith Wharton would have done too."

Aubri Ibrag and Barney Fishwick in The Buccaneers

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Is The Buccaneers a remake?

The Buccaneers was originally adapted by the BBC for a six-episode run, in 1995.

The cast included a young Carla Gugino - recently seen in an outstanding performance in The Fall of The House of Usher - as Nan St. George. Other famous faces to appear include Mira Sorvino, James Frain and Sheila Hancock. 

When asked by Backstage which of her performances has left a lasting in her, Gugino replied "I think a great deal of them have, but The Buccaneers, a BBC miniseries based on the Edith Wharton novel, was life-changing for me. I was 23 and I really became a woman over that five-month span shooting in England." 

For more on romantic period dramas, find out where Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story filmed, and who is Violet in the series. We also have a fantastic list of Bridgerton baby names, if the likes of Daphne, Hyacinth, Benedict and Edmund have inspired you.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.