The Pursuit of Love is a three-part mini-series co-produced by BBC/Amazon Prime and based on Nancy Mitford’s semi-autobiograpical novel, which was the first in a trilogy. Nancy was one of the “good” Mitfords: she was a ‘’small s’’ socialist, unlike two of her sisters Unity and Diane, who were notorious fascists. My friend Scott Bradley has been working on a script on Unity’s short, sad and pathetic life for a while. Amusingly, Unity and another sister, Jessica (there were six sisters in total), shared a bedroom. Jessica’s side was decorated with hammers and sickles and pictures of Lenin, while Unity’s was decorated with swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler. Nancy and Jessica are the clear basis for the two cousins in The Pursuit of Love.
The film is set mostly around the pre-Second World War period, and it’s about the friendship between cousins Linda Radlet (Linda Radlett) and Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham) as they navigate their way through their youth. Fanny is educated while Linda isn’t, but Linda is very headstrong because the family, specifically Uncle Matthew (Dominic West), despises educated women and is also a notorious xenophobe. They both rebel somewhat against their aristocratic upbringing, partly spurred on by their neighbour Lord Merlin, who is played by the “sexy priest” from Fleabag, Andrew Scott. Lord Merlin is introduced in a very memorable scene when he shows up at Linda’s sister Louisa’s coming-out ball, which is scored by the last great T-Rex single, “Dandy in the Underworld”. Lord Merlin is their way into the world of the Bright Young Things of the roaring ’20s, who were a group of outrageous young Bohemian aristocrats and socialites who set all the morals of the day on the fire. Diane and Nancy were the Mitfords most closely associated with this loose group of young people.
The mini-series/film was adapted to the screen and directed by Emily Mortimer, who also has a supporting role as “The Bolter.” It was very clearly influenced by Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antionette, and there have also been comparisons to the work of Wes Anderson. That said, it’s simply not as otherworldly as his work, even though is some clear stylistic grabs, especially how the characters are introduced. Sofia Coppola certainly wasn’t the first director to choose anachronistic music for a period drama, but she used it in a very original way for her oddly sympathetic take on Marie Antoinette. Mortimer freely rips off Coppola’s film by using New Order’s “Ceremony” in a similar way. The one criticism I would have about the music is that some of the best needle-drops are used to end the episode: for instance, Sleater-Kinney’s “Modern Girl” is perfectly used for one of the young women’s marriages, but it ends the episode a little too early. John Cale’s magnificent “Paris 1919” (quite possibly the single best piece of music recorded by an ex-member of the Velvet Underground) is used when Linda finds herself in Paris after a failed detour to Spain for the civil war. However, you wish they had used it for a long sequence of her ending up helpless in Paris instead of 20 seconds before the credits start rolling.
Despite some tiny nit-picking about the length of the needle-drops, it’s an incredibly enjoyable and idiosyncratic take on the BBC period drama. ITV and the BBC have done more traditional mini-series adaptations in 1980 and 2001 respectively, but both combined The Pursuit of Love with Love in a Cold Climate, a companion book that focuses on some other characters but retains Fanny as the narrator. Beecham and James give easily their best performances to date, and their friendship is utterly believable and messy, so you end up caring for both of them. However, Andrew Scott completely steals every scene he is in, and I kind of get the hype now – I never finished Fleabag and I’m now somewhat intrigued to see what he will do with Tom Ripley in the upcoming series he is starring in—he has some big shoes to fill! As somebody who isn’t huge on those BBC period dramas, I would much rather see something like this, which is having fun with the form. Instead of the usual dry three-hour borefest, the three hours here just flew by. There is actually a version cut as a theatrical film that will play the Rome film festival, but it seems to be a exclusive with no plans of a release down the line. I would be very intrigued to see how it works as a straight-forward feature.
The Blu-Ray doesn’t contain extras of any kind.