As we wait for the highly anticipated new series of Bridgerton and Downton Abbey, many of us have been looking to fill a period drama-shaped hole within our lives. A difficult task to fulfil, you may say, but one of the BBC’s newest mini-series, The Pursuit of Love, may just be the answer to all your TV-related prayers.
Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of period dramas (except for ITV’s Victoria, perhaps). I was, naively, under the impression that they were repetitive, over-done and over-hyped; so, I was somewhat apprehensive when I saw that The Pursuit of Love was taking over BBC One’s 9pm Sunday slot, once home to the much-loved Line of Duty. Regardless, I tuned in for the first episode and was immediately proven very wrong – this series was no ordinary period drama. Inspired by Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel, Emily Mortimer brings pages and writing to life in a stunning celebration of love, aesthetic movements, war, and socio-political rebellion – demonstrating how familial ties can restore peace within a tumultuous life.
At the heart of the series lies two young cousins, Linda Radlett, played by Lily James, and Fanny Logan, played by Emily Beecham, bonded by their desire to break from the constraints of their controversial parents. Linda’s father, Uncle Matthew (played by Dominic West), with his fascist and dictatorial approach to parenting, meant that she was excluded from receiving a proper education – something that leads her unruly mind to run wild during her childhood. Fanny, on the other hand, an educated girl, has been burdened by the legacy of her mother, nicknamed ‘The Bolter’. Desperate to escape, they spend hours convening with their secret society, the Hons, run from the house’s linen cupboard.
Daydreaming about love and how thrilling it would be to run off with the man of their dreams, the girls speak directly to every girl’s adolescent curiosity about romance. Their sexual awakening is marked by the arrival of Lord Merlin at the Alconleigh dinner party, introducing himself in a beautiful display of art, dance, and sexual liberation. Played by everyone’s favourite bad boy, Andrew Scott, known for his roles as the Hot Priest in Fleabag and Moriarty in Sherlock, it’s no surprise that his appearance in the first episode sparked such a strong feeling within Linda’s heart. In Radlett’s reaction I feel that Mortimer raises some really important issues about how girls struggle to understand their roles in life. She uses Linda and Fanny as a mouthpiece for feminine crisis; do women exist solely to marry and act as a vessel for the next generation? Or should they break the mould, like Lord Merlin, and explore themselves as sexual and artistic beings?
Over the course of the three episodes, the two girls embark on paradoxical journeys that provide answers to these two questions. Fanny settles for a traditional life as she leaves home and marries the painfully plain Alfred Wincham, an Oxfordian scholar whose only personality trait is his intelligence. They have countless children, they seem happy, but Fanny is left feeling at loss. There’s something missing from her life, and that thing is exactly what her mother and Linda have – sexual freedom and the ability to travel the world, without judgement or constraint. We watch Linda as she flies from lover to lover: a snobbish aristocrat, an adulterous communist and, lastly, a rich Frenchman who leaves her to fight in the war. The sheer hopelessness of these romantic escapades made my heart ache for her; like Fanny, I wished that Linda could’ve been granted the happiness that she had once daydreamed of in her earlier days. She was the princess in the castle, begging to be saved by three figures of prince charming, who left her isolated and bereft. Her only solace can be found in her beloved cousin, who she “would be lost without”.
Ultimately, Mortimer creates a screenplay that allows viewers to reflect on the true meanings of life, as well as the importance of friendships in place of romantic relationships. Linda and Fanny’s differing romantic experiences initially drive them apart; however, they show that distance makes the heart grow fonder. As they reconvene at Alconleigh to shelter from the war, all peace is restored, and they find happiness in the familiarity of their bodies. I suppose the message that we are left with is this: romantic love is not the ‘be all and end all’ of existence, especially for women. If there’s anything that can be learned from watching The Pursuit of Love, then, it is that you should not wish your life away in search of love, even if you think you’re making the right choice. Like Linda and Fanny, some of the most valuable relationships are closer than you initially believe.
If you’re interested, you can watch the trailer for The Pursuit of Love here.
– Isabella Ankerson
Featured Image Source: Still via The Pursuit of Love: Trailer – BBC // YouTube