Is The Pursuit of Love a true story? The real life inspiration behind TV’s Nancy Mitford book drama

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It may have recently come to its conclusion, but three-part drama The Pursuit of Love has proven one of the more popular showings on BBC television this year

Written and directed by Emily Mortimer, three-part drama The Pursuit of Love is set in Europe between the First and Second World Wars and follows the romantic adventures of Linda Radlett, played by Lily James.

Radlett and her beloved cousin Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham) are both stuck in 1920s Oxfordshire, waiting for their lives to truly begin.

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For Fanny, whose mother (Mortimer) has been nicknamed the Bolter due to her habit of abandoning husbands and her own child, that means finding comfort and stability, but Linda wants excitement and adventure.

(Photo: BBC)(Photo: BBC)
(Photo: BBC)

When the glamorous Lord Merlin (Andrew Scott) brings Tony Kroesig (Freddie Fox) to their coming-out ball, it seems Linda’s dreams of romance and escape are coming true, but Fanny senses trouble ahead.

But is it a true story, and how much of it is inspired by real life?

Here is everything you need to know.

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The Pursuit of Love cast: who stars in the BBC drama with Lily James, Dominic We...
(Photo: BBC)(Photo: BBC)
(Photo: BBC)

Is it a true story?

The Pursuit of Love is adapted from the 1945 novel by Nancy Mitford

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But while the story is entirely fictional, a lot of real-life inspiration made its way into Mitford’s book, and the author was known for caricaturing her friends and family in the characters that she created.

The main character of Linda Radlett is said to have been based on Mitford herself – with the occasional episode drawn from the lives of her sisters, Diana and Deborah – and Mortimer's character of “The Bolter” could have been based on Mitford’s sister Diana, who left her husband to run away with Sir Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists.

Radlett’s eccentric father (Uncle Matthew from the point of view of narrator, Fanny Logan) is based upon Mitford’s own, Baron Redesdalem who was said to have enjoyed the book character so much, he even answered to Uncle Matthew in later life.

Lord Merlin is almost certainly based on Mitford’s friend Lord Berners, an eccentric socialite known for his flamboyant parties and friendships with some of the most famous artists of the day, including Salvador Dali and H.G. Wells, while Fabrice de Sauveterre is based on a French diplomat and politician who stole Mitford’s heart called Gaston Palewski.

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‘There’s an energy to it’

It may come as a bit of a surprise that Mortimer didn’t originally come up with the idea of bringing the book to the screen.

It was actually her agent who secured the rights and asked if Mortimer would be interested in writing the script. However, she admits she didn’t need much persuading to take on the project, as she’d first read the book as a teenager.

Mortimer said: “When my agent asked me if I’d have a go at adapting it, I said yes immediately. I re-read the book and immediately thought yes even more.

“The experience of reading the novel is just as exciting in this day and age and the book still feels quite shocking and radical. It’s quite bracing and liberating to read which is amazing as it was written in 1945. It is full of love and romance but it has an edge. To me, it felt cool and it feels like there is a place for this now.”

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Filming took place during the pandemic, which made Mortimer aware of another way in which The Pursuit of Love, which begins in the 1920s and ends during the Second World War, may strike a chord with modern viewers.

She says: “There is something about this story being set between the wars, at a time when life was very fragile and everyone was living like there was no tomorrow. Our generation hasn’t had that experience of life in such an intense way. I hope this cheers people up. It is about painful subjects but there’s an energy to it.”

Will there be a second series?

Mitford wrote two sequels to The Pursuit of Love – 1949’s Love in a Cold Climate, and Don't Tell Alfred in 1960.

The book has previously been filmed in 1980 and 2001, although both of those versions combined it with Love in a Cold Climate.

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Speaking during an online event as part of the BFI & Radio Times TV Festival, executive producer Charles Collier also confirmed that, if the show was a ratings success, the production team would look into adapting another Mitford novel, 1949’s Love In A Cold Climate.

He said: “I think that is next. If audiences take this to their hearts, we would love to come back and look at Love In A Cold Climate. Fingers crossed.”

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