With a cast that includes Lily James and Andrew Scott, don’t make the mistake of thinking this miniseries is a stodgy historical piece.
It would be easy to write off The Pursuit of Love as another corsets and lace period drama, full of fainting ladies and strict social etiquette.
Well, there are no disapproving butlers or even eavesdropping from around the corner of the drawing room.
The Pursuit of Love is crackling with life and infused with an infectious, irrepressible spirit that Nancy Mitford, whose book it is adapted from, would definitely approve of.
Written and directed by actor Emily Mortimer, over three episodes, we’re invited into the dramatic world of Linda Radlett (Lily James), a young woman who’s entirely enraptured by the idea of grand, sweeping romantic love.
Linda is described by her cousin Fanny (Emily Beecham) as someone who “loved or loathed, laughed or cried, lived in a world of superlatives”. Linda feels everything, and she feels everything greatly.
But adventures and romance are off-limits. She and her siblings are confined to their family’s estate by their xenophobic father Matthew (Dominic West), a bombastic man who thinks the worst fate to befall a woman is education, and who literally cracks whips at dawn.
Mounted in the dining room is the weapon he used to kill Germans in WWI, displayed to emphasise Matthew’s deep distrust of any foreigners.
Despite being opposites in temperament, Linda and Fanny are best friends, with the more sensible, educated girl often roped into her impulsive cousin’s exploits. Fanny’s own mother, named only as The Bolter (Mortimer), is renowned for going through men with rapid speed, a reputation that Fanny has no desire to emulate.
RELATED: Time is a powerful prison drama
In the years leading up to WWI, there’s no place for women in upper-class English society to be individualists. But despite the best efforts of the “what’s expected” crowd, Linda is exactly that, a vivacious, uncompromising individualistic whose desires and whims are never tempered.
It’s a character that could’ve so easily been a caricature, a naive, inconsiderate brat who leaves chaos in her wake. But in James and Mortimer’s hands, drawn from Mitford’s writing, Linda is luminous, complex and commands empathy.
James can really break your heart with a single hurt look.
All the characters are larger-than-life, including Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott), the Radletts’ bon vivant neighbour who’s a patron to the artistic and bohemian Bright Young Things, and whose whippets prefer whisky.
But they’re all balanced by Fanny’s grounded narration, and it’s through Fanny’s eyes we experience this wondrous world, so it never feels as if The Pursuit of Love tips into farce.
RELATED: Ted Lasso is a TV phenomenon
Mortimer had previously co-written HBO series Doll & Em (with Dolly Wells, who has a small role here as Linda’s mother), but this is her directorial debut. She has a confident grasp on the miniseries’ tone, and a clear, deep love for these characters that were created all those years ago by one of the non-fascist Mitford sisters.
The Pursuit of Love whips along at a cracker pace – scenes often have fast editing – while its soundtrack is just as likely to feature Marianne Faithfull and Bryan Ferry as it does Strauss and Rossini, giving the whole affair that heady cocktail of youth, rebellion and vitality.
In that sense, there are reminiscences of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Tony McNamara’s The Great, two period productions you would never condemn as stodgy or staid.
It’s a very appealing, very intoxicating series.
The Pursuit of Love is on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, July 30
Share your TV and movies obsessions | @wenleima