‘The Pursuit of Love’ Will Hit Your ‘Bridgerton’ Sweet Spot


When Bridgerton hit Netflix last winter, a record-breaking number of viewers tuned in to its antics, sucked into the sexy period piece’s easy frills and thrills. A Regency-era romp about British high society and the bawdy dalliances contained therein, the show, based on the Julia Quinn novels, felt like a flirty pastiche of Jane Austen conventions—if you shoved one of her stories through a Harlequin romance Instagram filter and soundtracked it to orchestral covers of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish songs. 

Bridgerton was a smash in part because of its contemporary flourishes, exploding the trend of similarly anachronistic streamer shows like Apple TV+’s Dickinson and Hulu’s The Great (which owe a debt, of course, to their foremother: the blue Converse in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette). And those waiting for Bridgerton’s second season are precisely the type to get swept up in a new offering about a lovesick, high-society heroine: The Pursuit of Love. 

The three-episode Amazon miniseries, directed by Emily Mortimer, is based on the classic 1945 Nancy Mitford novel of the same name. On the surface, it bears plenty of similarities to Bridgerton—both have godly narrators, bullish male figures, modern music, high-society scandals, and above all else, a devotion to romance. 

Set in Oxfordshire, England, the story is narrated by Fanny (Emily Beecham), who spends much of her time looking after her best friend, Linda (Lily James), an aspiring bright young thing. Linda is spritely and romantic, given to melodramatic musings about love. She is constantly in pursuit of it, always getting tangled up with the wrong kind of rich boys. The narrative begins by hurtling Linda and Fanny toward their society debuts, the “puberty ritual,” as Fanny sums it up: “We came out into the world, 18 years old and ready for a husband.” 

Like Bridgerton, The Pursuit of Love is all about glamorous balls and upper-class drama, following well-heeled heroines and the bozos and beauties who court them. Pursuit, however, eventually strides down a much different path, contending with the rise of fascism and World War II, and how Linda’s life in particular is forever changed as a result. The novel itself is a product of its time, with Nancy drawing inspiration from her own life and family lore; two of her sisters, Diana and Unity, were raging fascists who considered Adolf Hitler both an idol and friend. (When England and Germany first went to war, Unity shot herself in the head with a gun gifted to her by Hitler himself; she survived but died of meningitis nine years later due to swelling caused by the bullet still lodged in her brain.) 

Still, Mitford’s brilliant satirical novel also revels in the frothier, more luxurious elements of the culture. So, too, does Mortimer. The Pursuit of Love is maximalist fare; Mortimer stuffs each frame until it explodes with flowers and fruits and clashing prints, a colorful student of English elegance slashed with eccentricity. And like Bridgerton, The Pursuit of Love is not beholden to historical accuracy. The show is, for example, soundtracked by contemporary, on-the-nose musical cues; T. Rex’s “Dandy in the Underworld” strikes up when Merlin is introduced, while Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” plays when Linda and Fanny gleefully escape to Oxford, the sound of riot grrrl feminist rebellion in bloom. 

Mortimer also splashes the screen with cheeky lower thirds, occasionally denoting throwaway side characters with names like “Important Person” or “Bitchy Ladies at the Ritz.” She does not resist camp, but instead strides toward it, marrying Mitford’s humor to modern, over-the-top flourishes. The treatment might not be restrained enough for historical purists or Mitford enthusiasts—but it is an accessible, lovingly made adaptation coursing with romance. (It is also, in fairness, much more restrained than the pure soap of Bridgerton.)

Anchoring the miniseries are Fanny and Linda, warmly portrayed by Beecham and James, a study in contrasts. Beecham is quiet and considered, a pursed lip and furrowed brow of a woman. James, meanwhile, is winsome and sparkly, alternating between Linda’s phases of high joy and utter distress, sighs, and cries. The entire series is dense with rich performances, including Andrew Scott as Merlin, a dandy who’s all scathing wit and bemusement, and Dominic West as the histrionic Uncle Matthew. Mortimer herself takes on the role of the Bolter, playing Fanny’s irresponsible mother with an insouciant air and a capital bob, gamely delivering lines like “Don’t waste money on underwear—nothing stupider!” with a raspy purr, sanded by smoke and time. 

But perhaps the show’s most memorable line is delivered by Scott. In the first episode, Merlin and Linda stand side by side watching the sunset, magic hour light gilding the pond on his estate. Merlin looks at her and smiles knowingly, uttering a delicious prophecy that encapsulates the story’s dance with catastrophic love: “You have an intensely romantic character,” he declares. “I see trouble ahead.”

This article originally appeared on Vanity Fair.


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