'The Pursuit of Love' star Lily James on period drama: ‘It's magical!’

Lily James and Emily Beecham in The Pursuit of Love.
Lily James and Emily Beecham are searching for romance as Linda and Fanny in The Pursuit of Love. (Image credit: (C) Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited - Photographer: Robert Viglasky)

Nancy Mitford’s witty novel The Pursuit of Love (opens in new tab) has been a firm favourite since it was first published in 1945 and it’s being brought to life in a lavish new period drama, airing on the BBC in the UK and showing on Amazon's Prime Video in the US.

The star-studded series, set in the 1920s and 1930s, centres on spirited Linda Radlett (Lily James) and her more reserved cousin and best friend Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham) as they come of age and dream of true love. 

Linda’s heart is set on a life of exciting adventure, but her hopes are thwarted by her eccentric, domineering father Matthew (Dominic West) who rules the family’s country estate, Alconleigh, with a rod of iron. However, their flamboyant neighbour Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott) opens up a glamorous new world to her as he introduces her to the "Bright Young Things".

Meanwhile, Fanny is searching for stability after being abandoned as a child by her flighty mother "The Bolter", played by Emily Mortimer, who adapted and directed the series. For both girls, their enduring friendship is their guiding force.

We caught up with Lily James and Emily Beecham to find out more about The Pursuit of Love.

What can you tell us about Linda? 

“Linda has spark, passion, fire and curiosity, but doesn't know what to do with it,” says James. “Her father doesn't let the girls have an education or leave the property. But she follows her heart and tries to find herself through the men she encounters — a communist, a conservative and a wild European.”

Dominic West in The Pursuit of Love.

Dominic West as Linda's domineering father Matthew Radlett in The Pursuit of Love. (Image credit: (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Steve Schofield)

And what about Fanny?

“Fanny and Linda are both searching for fulfillment in different ways. Fanny is struggling with who she is, but Linda brings technicolor into Fanny's life,” says Beecham. “They have secrets and hurt each other, but they come together like magnets. Even though they change and go in different directions, that bond is rare and special.”

What does it say about the inter-war period? 

“At that time, women’s options were limited. Do you become a mother and wife or do you face the world on your own terms? There’s a sadness it has to be those two extremes and there's no middle ground,” says James.

“Yes, they’re both freewheeling into womanhood, which is challenging in the 1930s,” adds Beecham. “Fanny’s struggling to find who she is. But as she grows older and becomes bored and frustrated and feels limited, she starts to gain more understanding for her mother's choices and Linda's choices…”

What were the costumes like?

Andrew Scott as Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love.

Andrew Scott as decadent Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love. (Image credit: (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Steve Schofield)

“For Linda, fashion is a source of creativity. There are tiny details like Linda’s yellow scarf that she has during her entire life,” says James. “The designer drew inspiration from Gucci fashion shows and the highest fashion in the 1930s. You feel like a living, breathing person when someone dresses you like that. It affects how you stand and move.” 

Does this feel very different from a traditional period drama?

“Yes, Emily Mortimer has brought something fresh but has caught the essence of Nancy Mitford’s writing with the wit and satire. There’s an indescribable, magical mix,” says James. “The music, too, is really vital with some incredible tunes. We did a ball scene where we had a band that was comprised of one member of The Who, two members of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and one each from The Specials and The Pretenders. It was incredible and they played this amazing jig.”

When can I watch The Pursuit of Love?

All episodes of The Pursuit of Love are available to watch on BBC iPlayer (opens in new tab) and on Amazon Prime Video (opens in new tab) in the US.

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Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.