Lily James as Linda and Emily Beecham as Fanny in The Pursuit of Love. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited

So stylish, so funny and such terrible people. There was and is so much comedy in Nancy Mitford’s send up of posh people between the wars novel as her soul sisters Fanny and Linda engage in The Pursuit of Love – in the right hands a TV adaption can’t go wrong.

The BBC’s Sunday night drama directed by Emily Mortimer and released in three instalments of one hour combines all the best one liners from the novel, and adds luxurious photography that lent towards slick neo nostalgia advertising in style, plus it uses annotated graphics so we knew who was who, as the narrator Fanny described the chaotic but highly entertaining coming of age events of Linda Radlett in 1930s England.

Shot in Bath and Bristol part one gave us close friends Fanny (Emily Beecham) and Linda (Lily James) and their near unbearable lives in the gilded cage of the stately home of Alconleigh. Dominated by the frankly unhinged Father (Dominic West) the largely female family are brought up to have no education and to prefer fox hunting to books. It is from this background of shouting and domestic violence the teenage girls rebel and inevitably make all the wrong choices in their pursuit of suitors.

Instead of being stuck in the aspic of post-World War One Britain with its jazz and vintage cars the production embraced modern music and used photos and footage of the era to supplement the story. Mitford (not the Nazi one but the Socialist one) makes the novel a story of bitter sweet love and disappointment as opposed to the ideals of love but also an unsubtle take down of the upper classes and their arrogant contempt for all beneath them. Added to that its role as a piece of social history The Pursuit of Love reminds us of how things have (or have not changed) and it is a masterpiece of literature and in the hands of the director Emily Mortimer is a sparkling delight revealing class and privilege are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Harry Mottram

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Cast list from Wikipedia: