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KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 ― English beauties Lily James and Emily Beecham play two best friends who navigate the complexities of love and life in the upcoming BBC First romantic comedy-drama miniseries The Pursuit of Love.
Set between the World Wars in Europe, the adaptation of the celebrated 1945 Nancy Mitford novel of the same name follows the adventures and misadventures of the fearless Linda Radlett (James) and her cousin Fanny Logan (Beecham).
It isn’t the first time the leading ladies have stepped back into the past for roles – James was previously in Rebecca, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Dig while Beecham starred in the BCC TV series The Village.
Asked why the early 20th century is an interesting period for storytelling, James said chaos inside of something channelled helps magnify drama and conflict, as her drama teacher once told her.
“Given there are more restraints on women then, you can show their struggles and their battles in a heightened way but that still entirely reflect problems we still have today or celebrate the good that has happened,” James told Malay Mail during a Zoom interview ahead of the show’s premiere.
She compared it to a pressure cooker where the drama is amplified and that coupled with the romance and exploration of a bygone era makes a story evocative and exciting.
“Even just the threat of war and what that does, especially now when we’re all living through something so intense, you get what really matters in life and the core of life,” the Cinderella star said.
Adapted and directed by Emily Mortimer, The Pursuit of Love also stars Dominic West, Dolly Wells, Andrew Scott, John Heffernan, Annabel Mullion and Beattie Edmondson.
On playing Linda, James said her character has a lot of fire and passion burning inside of her but she doesn’t know what to do with it.
“Throughout the story, she struggles with those emotions and not having anywhere to channel them other than the options of marriage, that’s her escape out of life,” the 32-year-old said.
While it was liberating to play someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, James acknowledged Linda’s internal turmoil too.
“The line that Linda says at the end, ‘Sometimes I don’t think we’re born women at all, it’s like our wings get clipped and then everyone’s so surprised when we don’t know how to fly’ ― there’s this feeling of a battle constantly within her but also an honesty for her to live how she chooses.
“I admire both the characters Linda and Fanny so hugely,” said James.
Far from your typical period drama with stiff collars and whatever stereotypes that come to mind, viewers can expect plenty of hilarious and quirky moments.
From poking fun at the British upper class to an unexpected playlist that features classical Bach in one scene and Nina Simone in another, Mortimer who directed the series made sure to keep things fresh.
“You feel sometimes that period dramas are quite restrained or inaccessible but actually they’re not,” said Beecham.
Although there were stricter parameters for women then, Beecham said the way Fanny and Linda “see themselves in the world is completely relevant and relatable to everybody today”.
She credited James’ magnetic personality that made forging a sisterly bond effortless on set.
A lot of the preparation for the series involved casual Zoom sessions to discuss the characters with Mortimer ― who also plays Fanny’s mother ― and how their own experiences of becoming women provided some perspective.
“Embarrassing things that made us laugh, things we did growing up when we were lovelorn, from kids to teens to womanhood and these challenges we don’t often talk about in regards to Linda and Fanny,” said Beecham.
Beecham is certain The Pursuit of Love will provide viewers with a sense of escapism from the pandemic.
“I do feel like it’s going to cheer people up and it has been such a difficult year.
“For us certainly it did feel like this opportunity to be in a different time, cocooned together ― it might be just the tonic because it is very funny, Nancy is so funny,” she said of the novel’s author.
The Pursuit of Love premieres Monday, May 10 at 8am on BBC First (UnifiTV channel 481) and BBC Player, express from the UK.