This article contains spoilers for The Buccaneers through episode 6.
While The Buccaneers on Apple TV+ is based on Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel of the same name, the show also depicts some of the real history from the 1870s as well. Wharton modeled the main characters after people she knew during her debutante days and other prominent figures of the era.
Episode 1 “American Poison” introduces Conchita “Conchi” Closson (Alisha Boe) as one of the heiresses representing the new class of business barons in the 1870s. Wharton in fact modeled her character after Consuelo Vanderbilt, the real-life wife of a tycoon.
Den of Geek spoke to series creator Katherine Jakeways, executive producer Beth Willis, and director and executive producer Susanna White to find out how they were inspired by Wharton’s novel and the real story of Consuelo Vanderbilt to bring Conchita to life on screen.
“Conchita was always one of my favorite characters because she’s so vivacious and she’s the rock star,” Jakeways says. “Everyone wants to be friends with her, everybody wants her at their party.”
The visuals behind Conchi’s introduction in “American Poison” were just as important as her initial dialogue with her friend Annabelle Annabelle “Nan” St. George (Kristine Frøseth). White thought about what one of the richest girls in New York would want in her house and used that to guide the way she staged those scenes.
“Within moments of the opening shot, we’re seeing Conchita’s giant standard pink poodle on her very opulent bed,” White says. “I wanted these shots to be really vibrant and alive because people a hundred years ago were seeing color, they weren’t in shades of [brown and static.]”
In those opening scenes, Conchi is getting ready for her wedding to Lord Richard “Dickie” Marable (Josh Dylan).
“We really wanted to explore in quite a 2023 way we hope, what happens when you have a holiday romance, then marry that man, and what happens after you say, ‘I do’,” Willis says. “We’re so steeped in period dramas that are all about the bit before the wedding.”
There is then a time jump to several months later and we see a pregnant Conchi confined to the house. Her friends visiting from New York in order to find their own husbands is what saves Conchi from boredom.
“They hit this solid wall of these people who are very stuck in manners and tradition and move more slowly and have much more exact boundaries than our freewheeling Americans,” White says. The visuals in England switch to darker and drab tones both outside and inside the stately homes of the British gentry.
In the following episodes, the happily ever after she expected doesn’t pan out. Conchi struggles with feeling like an outsider around her in-laws, the Brightlingseas. Some of these conversations have clear racial overtones as well.
“We wanted her to feel that she’s obviously a fish out of water,” Jakeways says. “There’s a line in the first episode where she talks about the fact that, when she’s pregnant, she’s worried about the fact that her baby is not going to look like the Brightlingseas and that she’s scared about how that future’s going to look for her baby.”
Consuelo Vanderbilt in real life was the daughter of William Kissiam Vanderbilt and his first wife Alva Erskine Smith. Her uncle was railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who many people associate with this era. Consuelo’s father made a lot of money in the railroad industry and her mother was determined to match her with a husband of high social status. She turned down the offers of several American and British suitors. Consuelo’s mother eventually forced her to marry Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895.
A closer look at Conselo’s backstory reveals an interesting detail that in fact illuminates why Boe’s casting as Conchi is in fact closer to the historical truth than expected. She was named after her godmother Consuelo Yznaga Montagu, the Duchess of Manchester. Montagu was a biracial Cuban-American heiress whose wealth came from her father’s family who owned plantations in Cuba, Louisiana, and Florida. Her marriage to George, the viscount of Mandeville in 1876 made her one of the first of the real-life “Buccaneers.” She became the Duchess of Manchester in 1890 when her husband inherited the title. Although history remembers her successes in charitable causes and her connections with the British Monarchy, Montagu likely did face some sort of othering when she was first married to the viscount as Montagu in her portrait appears slightly darker than Vanderbilt. Wharton’s novel blends both Montagu and Vanderbilts. Boe’s appearance as Conchita in The Buccaneers makes it clear that Conchi doesn’t benefit from colorism and cannot disguise her ethnic features in any way.
“They want Conchita’s money, but they don’t want Conchita,” Willis says. “And that is a really horrible experience for her. And she has to look at the man she loves and thinks, ‘Will you help me navigate this world?’ Because it’s chilly.”
The repeated micro and macro aggressions take a toll on Conchi and Dickie’s relationship. Later on, the tensions reach a breaking point Conchi decides to move out with Minnie because Dickie fails to reconcile his passion for Conchi with standing up to his family. In episode 6, “It’s Christmas,” Conchi and Dickie end up seeing each other again and they have to confront the fact they’ve spent a considerable time apart from each other.
Conchi and Dickie separating is also similar to Consuelo’s story. Not long after Consuelo married the Duke of Marlborough, they ended up living separate lives as they had nothing in common with each other. They formally separated in 1906 and were officially divorced in 1921. Consuelo was well-known for her philanthropic work but unlike Conchi was largely viewed as popular in society.
Even as Conchi and Dickie are going through their rough patch, Conchi can count on one set of people who will always support her.
“Life isn’t always rosy, life is complicated, and the girls have their female friendships to fall back on,” White says.
Can Conchi and Dickie avoid a set-in-stone divorce? We’ll have to watch the remaining episodes of The Buccaneers to find out!
The first six episodes of The Buccaneers are streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes released on Wednesdays.
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