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Emily Mortimer’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’ is a thorough pleasure

Andrew Scott and Lily James in "The Pursuit of Love."Robert Viglasky/Amazon Prime Video

I just want to send kudos out to Emily Mortimer, who wrote and directed the adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s “The Pursuit of Love.” Currently on Amazon, the three-parter is a pleasure from start to finish thanks to Mortimer’s spirited approach. I’m not sure my fellow classic-novel-adaptation lovers are aware of the miniseries; Amazon is probably better known for series such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Boys.” But there it is, along with an enjoyable 2018 adaptation of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.”

“The Pursuit of Love” moves jauntily, like the 1945 book, which Mitford based on her family. It’s lightly humorous and satirical, as best friends Linda (Lily James) and Fanny (Emily Beecham) come out into society and move in opposite directions. While Fanny settles for a conventional life as the wife of a dull professor, Linda, always yearning for romance and excitement, darts from one adventure to another. She is a creature of pure longing, unwilling to settle despite the costs of living as a woman alone in a judgmental and unforgiving milieu. She is something like her aunt, Fanny’s mother, who is dismissed as “The Bolter,” for her pattern of running off with different men. By the way, Mortimer plays The Bolter brilliantly, one of the miniseries’ entertaining side characters.    In what could have been a mood killer, Mortimer opts to fill the soundtrack not only with the predictable classical music, but with the likes of T. Rex, Nina Simone, and Sleater-Kinney. For me, those songs are a plus, and they are woven in intelligently. They add a strong hint of the modern world that is fast approaching these people, who are living not only amid the changes of war but of social hierarchies.


There were moments watching “The Pursuit of Love” when I wished we had been taken further into the characters’ psyches, but I felt the same way reading Mitford’s novel. The show isn’t aiming for deep psychological analysis. It’s an amusing, charming, and thought-provoking take on women in the 20th century, the brutality of conformity, and the broad swings of history.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.