It takes a lot to really impress this writer. I want to find fun, be moved and impressed by innovation and enchanted by wit and sagacity. And tell you about it.
The Pursuit of Love (streams on Amazon Prime Video from Friday) delighted me. It is compulsive and devastatingly funny viewing, with a strong dash of empathy and it also upends a genre. That genre is the British period-piece drama, which was in need of a good kick. In the way that Netflix’s Bridgerton knocked the genre sideways, this jewel slices and dices it and what emerges is delicious.
Based on the novel by Nancy Mitford about the intertwined lives of two young women with different approaches to life and romance, it could have been presented as a stately but charming lament for the period between the two World Wars, when England was leaving behind the Downton Abbey world and unsure of where it was going. Instead, it roars with energy and wit. Writing in The Independent, critic Ed Cumming called it a, “post-Bridgerton period bonkbuster.” Oh, the English and their coy phrases.
It’s a romp for sure and a classic one. In the 1920s or thereabouts, Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham), a quiet teenager, is sent to live in the mansion and vast estate of her uncle Matthew Radlett (Dominic West) because her mother, known as “The Bolter” has deserted her in order to pursue romance with unsuitable men from whom she inevitably bolts. In the big house of her uncle, Fanny’s truest friend is her cousin Linda Radlett (Lily James), who has no education and lives only to imagine hot romance with dreamy men. Linda’s ideal is to escape from her family and, “Go to the cinema, have sex and be adored by a man.”
Right. Well, the setting and atmosphere are presented as slightly bonkers in this BBC production. Uncle Matthew is obsessed with hunting, shooting and complaining about Germans. He even chases his own children while on horseback, thinks the idea of Linda going to school is outrageous and shouts and glares with gusto. (Dominic West is having the time of his life here.) The off-kilter stuffiness is undercut when neighbour Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott, the “hot priest” on Fleabag) comes calling, like Oscar Wilde on a tear, and insists Linda and Fanny get themselves educated in art. But Linda is more interested in devilishly handsome Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox), an airhead who is somehow studying at Oxford.
There are crazy escapades, pranks and much waggery, plus sexual adventures. The tone throughout is fiendishly clever, a shade shy of satire, and the framing of the story abounds in contemporary flourishes. The soundtrack is modern pop music and real footage of the English upper-class rituals in the 1920s is inserted with an eye on emphasizing the drollery. Mitford’s original novel had an acid sarcasm which is hard to translate to the screen but it is certainly here in abundance.
Three episodes of the miniseries were adapted and directed by actor Emily Mortimer (she also appears, playing The Bolter) and her keen eye for material that gives actors something to relish, is obvious. Mortimer also knows that the novel is essentially about two young women in search of freedom and liberation, a timeless theme, and not one to be constrained by the clichés of BBC period drama. She happily engages in a demolishment that is thrilling to see.
Also airing and streaming this weekend – Say Yes to the Dress (Saturday, TLC, 8 p.m.) is one of the happiest shows on TV and an absolute crowd-pleaser. It’s back with new episodes. The SYTTD franchise is one of reality television’s great triumphs. There’s a genius to it. A bride-to-be and her entourage go to the store to buy a wedding dress. That’s it. Except, of course, there is always drama. On this episode, “This is My Husband, and This is My Fiancé” Randy and the team at Kleinfeld Bridal help two members of a throuple find their dream wedding gowns. Apart from the drama, there’s a message: “Respect the relationship.”
Finally, note the arrival of Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean (streams on Netflix from Friday). This is the third doc about DeLorean in three years but here in the hands of legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, multiple layers of myth are peeled back to concentrate on analyzing the man as an overreaching, tragic figure. Superficial history sees DeLorean as auto-industry icon and maverick, the guy whose genius car was featured in the Back to the Future movies. Here, in his rise through the ranks at big-auto, he emerges more as fiercely driven scoundrel. His son, for instance, has a trenchant view of him as man, and says he’d like to throw a grenade at that iconic car. It’s a story of crash and burn, delusions and greed.
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