sun 26/05/2024

The Pursuit of Love, BBC One review - extravagantly entertaining | reviews, news & interviews

The Pursuit of Love, BBC One review - extravagantly entertaining

The Pursuit of Love, BBC One review - extravagantly entertaining

Nancy Mitford novel makes a smashing small screen transfer

Sisterhood: Lily James and Emily Beecham in 'The Pursuit of Love'Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited/Robert Viglasky (and of Dominic West below)

Nancy Mitford's 1945 literary sensation looks poised to be the TV talking point of the season, assuming the first episode of The Pursuit of Love sustains its utterly infectious energy through two hours still to come.

Adapted and directed by the actress Emily Mortimer, who has given herself a plum supporting role as an errant mother known as "the Bolter", the between-the-war three-parter is off to a galloping and giddy start, as if taking its cue from the breathless Linda (Lily James) at its ever-pulsating heart.  

The course of true love may not run smooth, to co-opt a line from a Shakespeare comedy cited here. And yet the bumps in the road are managed with hurtling ease by Mortimer and a deluxe cast, which includes a snarlingly unbridled Dominic West (pictured below) as Uncle Matthew, a malcontent as quick to temper as his daughter Linda is to romantic infatuation. The adaptation brings to mind Jane Austen on the one hand, with its portrait of sisters eyeing up men by way of escape, and then quickly skips the decades to nod stylistically in the direction of David Bowie and the movie Bridesmaids. Andrew Scott is handed the entrance of this or any season as the polka-dotted Lord Merlin, a freewheeling sybarite who could just as well have been conjured up by Andy Warhol: the actor, who looks as if he is having the time of his life, whirls into view to the accompanying tune of "Dandy In the Underworld" by T-Rex. 

Dominic West in 'The Pursuit of Love' on BBC OneAt the core of the story, narrated in flashback by the comparatively indrawn Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham), is the abiding kinship of Fanny and Linda, cousins who are also besties. The two fall into a bath together as easily as they trade notes on the efficacy of passion, Linda's impetuousity tempered by Fanny's caution and reserve. Linda falls under the sway of a moneyed Oxonian, Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox, sporting more curls than one would have thought possible), even as she speaks of lusting after the Prince of Wales very much from afar. Fanny, meanwhile, tries as best she can to distance herself from the "chaos and confusion" Linda brings in her wake, secretly admiring her cousin's ardent surrender to emotions far less easily arrived at within herself. 

Andrew Scott in 'The Pursuit of Love'The characters constitute a choice double-act and are embodied with surpassing ease by James, in career-best form as a coltish teen who can't wait to experience some sort of life to go alongside the "religion" she calls love, and Beecham, who bristles at her uncle's ferocious opprobrium but is there for Linda come what may. It's intriguing to compare James's emergence many years ago now in Downton Abbey with a not dissimilar period offering here (elegant homes are central to both), except that Mitford's libidinously adrenalised landscape has a gloves-off brio that makes Julian Fellowes's TV extravaganza seem contrastingly becalmed.

At times, a directorial touch tilts into mannerism: a freeze frame or bit of slo-mo (Fox's entry) to vary the tempo, or the introduction of various characters with title cards, as if ordering us somehow to keep track. And as is often the way with adaptations, the scriptwriter in Mortimer relies on voice-over narration to ease the way with an occasional heaviness of touch never once felt in the effortlessly seductive camera work of Zak Nicholson or in Mortimer the director's generosity towards her cast. 

The tone is neatly variegated as well, West in particular chilling the blood while hinting elsewhere at an element of play-acting to this xenophobic scold that may make Uncle Matthew's bark worse than his bite. You feel the need for these "bright young things" to expand their horizons, all the while aware of a century to come that has other fates in store. And when Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott pictured above, c. BBC Studios/Steve Schofield) advises Linda to acquire some intellect to go with her headstrong emotion, he speaks in the same admonition of "trouble ahead". His teasing reference only leaves me – and I suspect many others – in hot pursuit of what's still to come. 



Matt Wolf, I invite you to read your own review again and tell me, hand on heart, if you think it’s of a standard fit to post? I’m not talking content - that’s a whole other story.

I am more than happy to proof read for you.

Please give chapter and verse. I see nothing wrong or substandard here.

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