The Pursuit of Love, a British miniseries created and directed by Emily Mortimer, is a comedic love story about cousin best friends Linda Radlett (Lily James) and Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham). The miniseries is an adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel of the same name. The miniseries is only three episodes long, so it’s a quick watch. The Pursuit of Love is a mixed bag. The cinematography, editing, and mise-en-scene are magnificent, but the episodes are overpacked. The miniseries’ story makes it feel like you’re viewing a novel. Though, the narration brings a lot of energy to the three episodes.
Each episode is so packed that Mortimer can’t fully develop any characters or relationships outside of the central friendship. As a result, only Linda and Fanny can have emotionally rich conversations. For example, in episode one, the two best friends speak in-depth about their desires to explore the world. Fanny’s narrations are focused on Linda’s life with only cursory mentions of everybody else.
Linda is in love with the idea of being in love. The miniseries are jam-packed with montages and silent scenes of her many love affairs. But the scenes only became fleshed out once Linda falls out of love. During a tense dinner party, Linda is repulsed by her first husband, Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox), who rants about the joys of Capitalism and professes Pro-Nazi sentiments. Fanny’s marriage with intellectual Alfred Wincham (Shazad Latif) seems hallow. There is only one cute meet scene in the bookshop before they’re married with children. Without proper development, every character other than Linda or Fanny comes off as stereotypical. Tony is a typical Conservative Parliamentarian type, while Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott) is a bohemian type who spends all his time chatting about art. Montages are an excellent tool to move the story along but overusing them erases any chance for characters to be multi-faceted.
The costumes are sublime because they are both appear historically accurate and express the character’s personalities. Pragmatic Fanny wears a lot of stylish but muted jackets and hats. A perfect embodiment of how Fanny tries to conform to societal rules because she wants to be the opposite of her mother, the Bolter (Emily Mortimer). While Linda dresses based on whoever she is infuriated with at the time. When Linda falls for Tony, she dresses in a slightly more colorful version of Fanny’s outfits. Her outfits shift when she moves in with Communist Christian Talbot (James Frecheville). Since Linda now must work and talk about Socialism all day, she wears berets, grey dresses, and pants. No matter what, Linda is always the height of fashion, but passion runs her life. Linda never knows herself as an independent being, and her outfits express that.
The miniseries uses archival imagery to express a shift in cultural movements or a change of country. A series of photographs act as a transition for the audience from one world into another. Fanny and her Uncle Davey(John Heffernan) fly to Los Angeles to rescue cousin Jassy (Martha West ) from marrying an actor. The transition begins with 1930-1940s archival footage featuring the filming process and movie premieres in Hollywood. Then a series of black and white photos of classic movie stars, the Hollywood sign, a LA park, and an outdoor cafe. Then a cut to a long shot of the same colorful outdoor restaurant where Fanny and Davey meet Jassy. The imagery from the 1930s to 1940s establishes the world the actors are walking into and makes the editing feel more dynamic. It’s well done.
Fanny’s narration adds liveliness to the story. I am a big fan of first-person novels, which may be why I enjoy how the episodes are from a particular point of view. At times the narration reveals how Fanny deludes herself. In the second episode, Fanny muses about how she enjoys not having to deal with Linda’s drama. But when Fanny mistakes a stranger for Linda and becomes disappointed, we realize she has been lying to herself.
Now I know that Mortimer adapted The Pursuit of Love from a novel, but it seems that the miniseries punishes Linda for not living by societal rules. Many of their family members call Linda broken because she was not educated and obsessed with love. Linda worships romantic relationships sometimes to her detriment, but at the same time, her desire for passion stops her from staying in an unhappy, cruel marriage with Tony. Everybody insists that education or a solid head on her shoulders would have helped Linda live a happier life. On the other hand, even Fanny’s intelligence didn’t prevent her from living a life as an overlooked housewife. Linda perishes in childbirth as punishment for living large. Fanny’s reward for following rules is losing her real spiritual love, Linda, then raising Linda’s son Fabrice. Mortimer tries to compensate for the sexist elements of the story by saying that Fanny’s granddaughters will live the life they choose. Still, it’s too bad that she couldn’t subvert societal norms by creating at least one character who doesn’t die or live miserably. All the women characters are either “stayers” or “bolters,” nothing else.
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