BBC’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’ lets Andrew Scott hilariously steal the show

There are few things in life that excite me more than the arrival of a new period drama on our screens. 

And I’m very happy to say that The Pursuit of Love, BBC One’s new adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel, will bring peals of laughter to your living room. It is, in my opinion, a delight. 

I should, of course, caveat that I have not read Mitford’s much-beloved, perennial best-selling novel, so cannot profess to know how true to the book director Emily Mortimer’s adaptation is. But I came away from watching the first episode with a burning urge to order a copy and rectify this omission in my reading history. If a literary adaptation makes you want to go away and read the book, then it has succeeded.  

The Pursuit of Love takes place in the years between World War I and II and tells the story of diehard romantic, headstrong Linda Radlett (Lily James) and her search for all-consuming love. Narrated by her cousin and close friend Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham), the drama begins with an introduction to Linda’s family, the Radletts, who can only be described as eccentric aristocrats living in a cold, uncomfortable fortress called Alconleigh, nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside. The Radlett patriarch, Uncle Matthew (Dominic West), doesn’t believe his daughters should be educated lest they be exposed to too much physical exercise and end up with “thighs like gateposts.” As you can probably imagine, this caricature of a truly terrible man seems to spend most of his time cracking whips in the air outside his house and chasing his children round the grounds with bloodhounds. As the Radlett children languish in their lack of formal education, Linda — who “lives in a world of superlatives” — grows evermore consumed with a desire for intense romance. 

Enter Andrew Scott, who plays Lord Merlin, a beguiling dandy who lives in the neighbouring estate to the Radlett abode. He feeds whiskey to his dogs, and dyes his pigeons pink and green, assuring the Radletts, “They love it.” Merlin instantly hits it off with Linda, to whom he becomes unwaveringly supportive in his own unique way. “You have an intensely romantic character,” he tells her. “I see trouble ahead.” He’s not wrong, and Merlin’s outbursts of commentary about Linda’s romantic sensibilities do not end there. 

Andrew Scott is nothing short of dazzling in his bold, zany role as Lord Merlin.

Andrew Scott is nothing short of dazzling in his bold, zany role as Lord Merlin.

Image: Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited / Robert Viglasky

Scott is nothing short of dazzling in this bold, zany role. We know from his Fleabag days that Scott has a captivating on-screen presence, and his performance in The Pursuit of Love is no different. I found myself screeching whenever Scott opened his mouth to bellow out whatever pronouncement came to mind about Linda’s high-octane love life. Her mission to find love takes many a wrong turn, much to Merlin’s deep despair. “She just needs to spend five minutes on her own!!!!” he screams in Fanny’s living room upon hearing some news about Linda’s romantic pursuits.

As Linda, Lily James brings an energy to the role that makes you unable to do anything other than cheer her on from the sidelines. As someone with deep romantic sensibilities, there’s something very human and vulnerable about Linda’s desire to be loved wholly and deeply. 

Setting aside Linda’s single-minded quest for passion, the adaptation doesn’t shift its focus from the central relationship that holds the story together: Linda and Fanny’s friendship. There is a kind of romance to this intense friendship and the strong bond between two women who, at times, could not be less alike. Fanny, having been abandoned by her serial monogamist mother — played by writer and director Emily Mortimer and referred to throughout as The Bolter — opts for a life of drama-free stability. Mortimer’s pièce de résistance comes when she delivers the following line in the plummiest, most insincere cadence imaginable: “I’m your mummmmmmyyyyyyy.” 

Linda (Lily James) and Fanny (Emily Beecham).

Linda (Lily James) and Fanny (Emily Beecham).

Image: Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited / Robert Viglasky

The soundtrack is fun too, but has proved polarising among some viewers who aren’t a fan of modern soundtracks for period dramas — see: Bridgerton. Expect Le Tigre, Bryan Ferry, T Rex, Cat Power, Joan Armatrading, The Who. What’s not to love? 

Of course, it’s not all playfully anachronistic tunes and comic one-liners (though they are in abundance throughout) — there are moments of poignancy and tragedy in this three-part series. Prepare for eccentric hijinks, heated conversations about communism, lots of brooding romantic energy, and many entertaining outbursts from Andrew Scott. It’s a lot of fun. 

The Pursuit of Love is streaming now on BBC iPlayer and will be available on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — release date TBC. Episodes will air on Sundays at 9 p.m. BST on BBC One

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