A better title for “The Pursuit of Love,” the three-part adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel streaming now on Amazon Prime, would be that of Johnny Lee’s 1980 hit song “Lookin’ for Love (In All the Wrong Places).”
Mitford’s strongly autobiographical coming-of-age story of two cousins in interwar England was a best-seller, in part for its underlying feminist tone. Women should have the right to act as badly as men, the book suggests, especially where adultery is concerned. Why should married men have an affair and get away with it, while women who do the same are scorned and cast out?
Why not indeed, if morality is to be cast to the winds, as it is in this faithful small-screen version written and directed by Emily Mortimer, which is played largely for laughs. The series’ frivolous view of infidelity and homosexuality, as well as the fleeting nudity and obscene gestures it contains, suggest a very restricted adult viewership.
That’s a pity, since the acting is first-rate and the costumes and settings are as sumptuous as in another English period drama, Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” though this series is (mercifully) much less sexually explicit.
“The Pursuit of Love” is narrated by Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham), chronicling her journey from school days to marriage alongside that of her cousin and soulmate, Linda Radlett (Lily James). The girls are a study in contrasts: Fanny sensible and book-smart, Linda fearless and hopelessly romantic.
“I aspire to true love, the kind that comes once in a lifetime and lasts forever,” Linda says.
Fanny’s not so sure, perhaps due to the bad example set by her mother (played by Mortimer). She abandoned Fanny as a child for a life of serial monogamy, changing male companions with each season (and earning herself the moniker “The Bolter”).
“Whoever invented love ought to be shot,” The Bolter proclaims.
Left in the care of her Aunt Sadie (Dolly Wells), Fanny spends most of her time at Alconleigh, the Radlett country estate where Linda’s eccentric father, Matthew (Dominic West), rules the roost. Matthew loathes children and foreigners and, most of all, educated young females like Fanny.
The girls fall under the spell of a pansexual neighbor, Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott). At a gathering of “bright young things,” he introduces Linda to Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox), the dashing heir to a banking fortune, and sparks fly. They secretly get engaged, much to Matthew’s fury, as Tony is of German descent and his family seems rather too fond of Adolf Hitler.
True love evades Linda, and the marriage breaks down. She gives birth but, like The Bolter, shuns the child, leaving it in the care of Tony’s family. The couple then divorce, causing great scandal.
Fanny, on the other hand, seems destined for a happy ending. She marries a kindly if dull Oxford don, Alfred Wincham (Shazad Latif), and starts a family, settling into her role as dutiful wife and mother.
Not so fast: Fanny grows to resent her quiet domesticity as she vicariously follows Linda’s relentless hunt for that crazy little thing called love, a quest that takes her abroad to Spain and France — and viewers on an escapist — if, at times, cynically amoral — journey.
Category: TV Reviews