The Pursuit of Love, Fantasies and morality tales make uneasy bedfellows, as evidenced within the varyingly exultant and irritating “The Pursuit of Love.” Tailored by Emily Mortimer from the famed same-named 1945 novel by Nancy Mitford, the three-episode miniseries is ready in that sliver of time between World Battle I and World Battle II, and follows two cousins whose contrasting personalities and priorities complicate their love and affection for one another. With characters who’re varieties greater than individuals, “The Pursuit of Love” is at its greatest when it’s a prickly, satirical evaluation of the flightiness and eccentricity of the rich, and when it looks like a gossipy, gauzy social gathering dropped at life from the pages of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. However when it makes an attempt to make broader statements about ladies’ tasks and identities without the character work to again it up, the aesthetic joys of “The Pursuit of Love” threaten to break down below that moralizing weight.
Starting in 1941 earlier than leaping again to 1927 and shifting linearly ahead, “The Pursuit of Love” follows cousins Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham) and Linda Radlett (Lily James). Fanny is the one daughter of the Bolter (Mortimer), a lady who left her to be raised by her Aunt Emily (Annabel Mullion) whereas the Bolter dove right into a string of relationships. Deeply damaged by her mom’s abandonment, Fanny grows right into a sensible, logical younger girl. Every Christmas, Fanny visits Linda at her household’s manor home Alconleigh within the English countryside. Alconleigh is dominated by Linda’s tyrannical father Matthew (Dominic West), whose hatred of foreigners and refusal to let his youngsters—particularly his daughters—be educated has impressed in Linda a passionately emotional nature, and a determined need to develop up and depart her household.
Every episode of “The Pursuit of Love” tracks the cousins as they try and navigate pending maturity, and their routine turns into Linda falling for a person, deciding she’s in love, leaving Fanny to be with him, after which realizing that she hasn’t discovered happiness in any respect. “She was a wild and nervous creature, stuffed with ardor and longing,” Fanny (who serves because the sequence’ narrator) says of Linda, and Linda whole-heartedly throws herself into one relationship after one other. Every man opens up a window into a special form of the world: Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox), an Oxford scholar, banker’s son, and eventual member of the Home of Lords; Christian Talbot (James Frecheville), an avowed Communist and ally to laborers, specifically these rising up throughout the Spanish Civil Battle; and Duke Fabrice de Sauveterre (Assaad Bouab), a rich Frenchman whose appreciation for style and artwork is balanced by his involvement within the French Resistance.
As Linda strikes spontaneously by way of the world, Fanny stays put and worries; a lot of the stress of “The Pursuit of Love” comes from that imbalance. The arcs of supporting characters additionally rotate round Linda: the snarling Matthew, who West portrays with alternately hilarious absurdity (“Linda, you’re uneducated, thank God”) and unsettling rage; Fanny’s involved uncle Davey (John Heffernan), whose large grin belies his consciousness of the social destroy Fanny faces if she beneficial properties sure popularity; and the Radletts’ neighbor Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott), a “vibrant younger factor” whose eccentric qualities (dying pigeons vibrant colors, letting a horse roam by way of his house) run parallel to his perception that society’s guidelines typically subjugate ladies. Heffernan and Scott (this miniseries’ smoldering MVP) are significantly nice collectively, and their characters provide two sides of the “moneyed gentleman” coin. A scene throughout which Davey and Merlin commerce snide observations about how rich their friends are and dissolve into laughter over reminiscences of gallivanting around Europe collectively is an absolute spotlight, and an indicator of what “The Pursuit of Love” might have used extra of sardonic self-awareness to steadiness a lot of treacly sincerity.
As a substitute, “The Pursuit of Love” stays laser-focused on the variations between Linda’s and Fanny’s worldviews, and disgrace on me if I have been to complain about any popular culture entity spending an excessive amount of time on ladies’ lives. However what’s missing from “The Pursuit of Love” is a constant curiosity within the lady’s interiority previous to Linda’s love obsession and Fanny’s lack of ability to know it. Fanny is such a reactive character that she succeeds as an observational narrator, however, when “The Pursuit of Love” makes an attempt to make use of her as a foil for Linda, there simply isn’t a lot there. The sequence’s third (and greatest) episode makes some headway into Fanny’s personal character, however then maddeningly turns down an excessively acquainted narrative highway and leaves that subplot behind. Fanny and Linda really feel barely flattened all all through the miniseries, as if Mortimer determined that the previous being the bookish, quiet one and the latter being the vivacious, flirty one was sufficient personalization.
James is charming sufficient to beat these limitations, although, particularly when she slips into a few of her “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” mannerisms: swooning, laughing, emoting. She and the extra stalwart Beecham make an excellent match, and Mortimer emphasizes their difficult relationship with scenes that each have a good time their bond (hiding collectively within the Alconleigh linen closet) and critique their codependency (an agonizing farewell as Linda leaves by prepare for France). What’s considerably lacking from all this, although, is what makes Linda so distinctive and so beloved when her actions are so typically deeply egocentric and hurtful to others; the sequence’s tone is all over. (A extra exact satirical bent would have crystallized this: Do individuals similar to Linda as a result of she’s lovely?) And the absence of that clarification additionally makes the ending of “The Pursuit of Love,” which stresses motherhood as a pure, sacrificial duty, fall considerably flat when it comes to its emotional impression.
“The Pursuit of Love” was filmed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and elements of the difference do really feel constrained: a reliance on indoor places, manufacturing design to make scenes appear as if they’re set in France, and an onslaught of contemporaneous black-and-white pictures and archival information footage to speak the years passing from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some visible particulars are a bit too cutesy (looping cursive script onscreen informs viewers of character names and places), and the miniseries has a curious relationship with inclusive casting (the nice: a few male love pursuits are portrayed by actors of South Asian and North African descent; the unhealthy: Black ladies and girls of shade are used as unique dispensers of knowledge).
These distractions and shortcomings apart, “The Pursuit of Love” is technically well-considered. Sinéad Kidao’s costumes seize the characters’ singularities, from Merlin’s dotted, open-chest silk pajamas to Linda’s glittering, artwork deco marriage ceremony costume to Fanny’s wise tweed fits and the ostrich hat she yearns for, after which can’t cease twiddling with. (Who knew the imaginative and prescient of Andrew Scott standing in a subject whereas carrying a pair of sun shades and black rollneck sweater could be so life-changing?) Anachronistic soundtrack selections, like New Order’s “Ceremony” and Sleater-Kinney’s “Fashionable Lady,” add a contact of aptitude a la Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” Does “The Pursuit of Love,” say something significantly insightful about womanhood, or about middle-century femininity as home ennui, or concerning the relationship between the humanities and self-fulfillment? It hints at these concepts without digging in totally or meaningfully, and its ending is infuriatingly punishing. However, the miniseries’ breezy tempo, likable ensemble, and low-key twee type make “The Pursuit of Love” simple to fall into, even with the sense that its satire might have been spikier.
Complete sequence screened for assessment. “The Pursuit of Love” premieres on Amazon on July 30.