The Pursuit of Love

Photograph: BBC
Rating 8.0
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 3 x 60 mins

After the booming success of bonkers Bridgerton, we now expect all period dramas to come with rampant shagging, camp costumes and wonderfully contrived conversation. Luckily screenwriter Emily Mortimer got the memo with this adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s much loved novel.

Although those who count themselves among Mitford’s fans might not be so chuffed with this adaptation – it’s thrown historical accuracy out the window, instead choosing to make this a thoroughly lavish and riotous retelling of the eccentric Radlett family’s adventures, with a distinctly Wes Anderson feel to it. The tale was ripe for this kind of remake, though – set in the years before the onset of the Second World War, we meet our narrator, Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham), a gentle and nerdy young woman who is taken in by her uncle Matthew Radlett (Dominic West) after her mum decided she didn’t quite fancy motherhood, and would rather live her life hopping from man to man. Under her uncle’s care, Fanny becomes best pals with his second daughter, Linda (Lily James). Linda seems to be sewn from the same cloth as poor Fanny’s mother, and spends her time dreaming of romantic escapades with any man that may cross her path. We meet a few of these candidates: Lord Merlin arrives – brilliantly played by Andrew Scott, Fleabag’s hot priest – with a bunch of his dishy mates, and Linda becomes rather taken by Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox), who is obviously the worst of a bad bunch.

If you like the sound of this, you’re going to love Bridgerton

All of these goings-on are camped up to the full row of tents, with all of the actors taking their characters defining traits to the max – Linda is so wilful she almost becomes irritating, and Fanny so gentle she verges on dull. However West seems to have mastered the art of being eccentric and brutish without becoming abhorrent – maybe we’ll forgive him now for that note on the gate saga. 

This is definitely set to be a love it or loathe it kind of series – the modern twists, such as the raunchy shagging and the rock soundtrack, are bound to put off some viewers, as will the modern script with 21st century gags and points about women’s status shoved in just for the fun of it. But if you can look past these things, or even maybe learn to enjoy them, then this miniseries is a proper hoot. It’s funny, good-looking, and rich. Just what Linda looks for in a man.

Lily James also stars in this wonderful adaptation of War and Peace

The critics were pretty divided over The Pursuit of Love.  Whilst Lucy Mangan of The Guardian gave it a full five stars, hailing it an “instant classic,” and a “treat for all,” The Telegraph’s Anita Singh wasn’t so sure. She says that “episodes two and three feel like a bit of a chronological slog through the years,” and remarking, “Linda should be exasperating, but in this adaptation she is simply annoying.” And despite giving it four stars, the Independent’s Ed Cumming agrees, saying “this adaptation, for all its technical proficiency, crisp one-liners and confident performances, sometimes feels a little chilly.” The Times’s Carol Midgley, however, doesn’t agree. She thinks this show is “dynamic, vigorous and punky, while remaining mostly true to Mitford’s dark jocularity and suggestion that the upper classes are half mad,” calling it “glorious Sunday evening fayre.”

First shown May 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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