Many in the younger-generation ranks of “Downton Abbey” alums have graduated to solid careers on TV and in the movies, but I would say Lily James has appeared in the most high-profile projects, with feature films such as “Cinderella,” “Baby Driver,” “Darkest Hour” and “Yesterday,” the BBC limited series “War & Peace, the upcoming streaming series “Pam & Tommy” — and the leading role in the new, three-part Amazon Prime Video period piece “The Pursuit of Love.”
James returns to the world of the greatly privileged class in the England of the early part of the 20th century and once again effortlessly slips into the role of a bubbly and curious and rebellious spirit who wants to fall and love and see the world. But whereas Lady Rose in “Downton” was kind at heart and often thought of others, James’ Linda character in “The Pursuit of Love” is often a quite awful human being who almost always puts herself above others and is so self-consumed she considers her children to be nuisances that get in the way as she relentlessly pursues the ultimate, globe-trotting good time.
Which actually makes Linda more interesting than dear Lady Rose.
Based on the popular and enduring Nancy Mitford novel from 1945 and adapted with a deft touch by Emily Mortimer (who also shines in a key supporting role), “The Pursuit of Love” is a delicious albeit minor snack that will at least temporarily appease the appetites of the legions of “Bridgerton” fans awaiting Season 2. While nowhere near as lush and vibrant and sexy as that Netflix sensation, this cheeky and often darkly funny series features some of the same touches, e.g, the dialogue has sprinkles of anachronistic touches, and we hear the sounds of British acts such as New Order, Bryan Ferry and T. Rex on the soundtrack.
Emily Beecham’s Fanny serves as the narrator for the story, which centers around the posh Radletts and their various friends and associates, including Fanny’s cousin and best friend, the aforementioned Linda; Fanny’s uncle and Linda’s father, Matthew (Dominic West), a comically loathsome fool who hates all foreigners and believes it’s dangerous and immoral to educate his daughters, and Fanny’s here-today-gone-tomorrow mother (Emily Mortimer), who is known as The Bolter because she opportunistically hooks up with one man after another, each time bolting when a better opportunity arises.
Much of “The Pursuit of Love” is about the rocky but enduring friendship of Fanny and Linda through the 1920s and 1930s, with Fanny for the most part sticking to the straight and narrow path while Linda obsessively pursues true love without having the slightest idea of what that really means. First she marries the pompous and handsome boor Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox); later she winds up with a French duke named Fabrice (Assaad Bouab), unaware he has a reputation as a world-class bounder.
Through it all, Fanny is always there for Linda, hardly seeming to notice that Linda leans on her and cries to her and unloads on her — but almost never seems to inquire as to how FANNY is doing, what Fanny is feeling. “The Pursuit of Love” is a great-looking show with sumptuous production design, and the fine ensemble cast sells the material. It was a smart move to limit this story to just the three hourlong episodes, as it keeps us entertained but also allows for Linda to make her exit before her act has worn thin on us.