Step into the Gilded Age. But not in a stuffy way. C&TH talks to Amy Maguire, the production designer of the hottest new period drama (and/or ‘the new Bridgerton‘), Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers, out 8 Nov.
Interview: Amy Maguire, Production Designer Of Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers, On Creating The 1870s On Screen
‘I’m not sure at what point the poodle became pink,’ says Amy, ‘but it was definitely scripted.’
The opening shot of The Buccaneers drops you straight into a party. The kind of party that you want to be invited to. In that party sits a contented poodle, calm against the chaos. The poodle also happens to be spray painted a glorious pink. It’s New York in the 1870s, and it’s loud, a bit garish, but joyfully uninhibited.
The Buccaneers is Apple TV+’s answer to Bridgerton – or perhaps a more Gen Z riff on The Gilded Age – and the series takes you into the freewheeling lives of four young women who must cross the Atlantic to enter society in the much stuffier England of the 1870s.
The new series is based on an unfinished final novel from Edith Wharton, and it stars an impressive cast, including Christina Hendricks, Kristine Froseth and Imogen Waterhouse (most of its leads seem to be former models as well as actors). The world the cast come to occupy is ultimately rife with class politics, marital plots, and, of course, steamy ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance, those all the mainstay tropes of a period drama – but The Buccaneers is not your classic historical binge-watch. In fact, it’s a sort of atemporal mishmash of a world, gently possible to pin to the 19th century, but not so wedded to history that you feel any distanced from the characters and their struggles. It’s a strikingly relatable show at several points.
Behind much of the world-building for The Buccaneers was production designer Amy Maguire, who created the look and feel of the two continents that appeared over the course of eight episodes.
‘We made the decision early on that we didn’t want to fall into the traps of being too period accurate,’ says Amy, ‘period dramas are very well-trodden, and so we wanted it to feel fresh and youthful.’
Hence, then, the pink poodle.
‘Susanna [White, director of the first few episodes] was very keen for the pink poodle!’ Amy says, ‘but it was scripted, although I’m not sure at what point it became pink.’
The series follows Nan (Kristine Froseth) and her friends as they are shipped from new money America by their mothers in a bid to secure landed husbands from the English upper-class. Both worlds receive equal screen time, and the culture clash is no more apparent than in the design of the interiors. ‘We wanted New York to feel not necessarily gaudy,’ explains Amy, ‘but definitely an ostentatious display of wealth. But with the UK, the spaces needed to be rooted in ancestry and with a level of formality – tonal colour matches, silk panelling, and that sort of thing.’
Over the course of the series, the audience watches as Honoraria Marable (Mia Threapleton) emerges from the formality expected of her through exposure to the free-spirited American girls, before entering an LGBTQ+ storyline. But when we first meet her, she’s almost part of the furniture. ‘The first conversation I had with Susanna, she was talking about the way she wanted the women from England to almost feel invisible against the wallpaper,’ says Amy, ‘like the light was almost unable to get through the windows.’
The series also jets you across a number of locations, from New York to London to Cornwall – although much of The Buccaneers was filmed in Scotland. ‘We filmed a lot in Scotland, and there were such a variety of incredible houses there,’ says Amy, ‘and many of the locations doubled up. We used the Glasgow streets as our New York streets, and the first house you see in the first episode is Gosford House, which is actually outside of Edinburgh. Gosford House is particularly incredible – I was blown away by the private art collection there. There was also an organ which was one of the most ornate pieces of furniture I’ve ever seen, and we had to just film around it, we weren’t allowed to move it.’
Art is also a frequent talking point for Nan, as she meets the quiet Duke. Her interest in more intellectual pursuits sets her apart from British debutantes, in the eyes of the men who feature on screen. And the interiors of The Buccaneers were filled to the brim with famous frames as a consequence. ‘We shot in Drumlanrig Castle, and you’d spend some time looking at paintings, and suddenly there’s a Holbein that’s just there. Or a Rembrandt,’ says Amy, ‘you’d walk around so casually next to the most incredible paintings.’
For those who find themselves enamoured with the world of The Buccanneers, Amy leaves them with the following advice: ‘We had such a fun time going around the antiques fairs and shops in Edinburgh and finding inspiration and pieces that way – so definitely shop around for antiques!’
The first three episodes of The Buccaneers is available to stream on Apple TV+ from Wednesday 8 November. tv.apple.com