Honest, faithful and fantastically enjoyable: BBC1's The Pursuit of Love reviewed

15 May 2021

9:00 AM

15 May 2021

9:00 AM

The Pursuit of Love


Jupiter’s Legacy


I’d been expecting the BBC to make a dreadful hash of The Pursuit of Love, especially when I read that they’d spiced it up with hints of lesbianism and punk rock. But actually, I think what writer/director Emily Mortimer has done here is play a very clever trick — the equivalent of releasing a cloud of aluminium chaff from your fighter aircraft to distract the enemy’s missiles.

So while everyone is cooing about how refreshing it is that lesbianism has finally got a look-in (see also: every other drama and comedy series on TV from Killing Eve to Call My Agent), Mortimer can get on with the deeply subversive business of slipping under the BBC radar an honest, old-fashioned, faithful and fantastically enjoyable Nancy Mitford adaptation.

Yes, I agree with those complainants who say that Lily James’s diction can be a bit slurry and unintelligible; but she does look and feel right for the part of undereducated, upper-class, romantic dreamer Linda Radlett (even in the scenes where she’s supposed to be 17 when in real life she’s 32); and she makes a fine, touching and convincing double act with Emily Beecham as her BF Fanny Logan, especially when they’re sharing a bath.

That bath scene, by the way, was the ‘lesbianism’. Everyone is so ignorant and common these days that your average viewer (and indeed critic) has simply no idea what standard inter-war upper-class behaviour looks like, and so colours it with their own fatuous misconceptions. To me, though, this adaptation definitely passes the sniff test — even if the hunting scene wasn’t quite echt, what with it having been filmed obviously out of season with all the trees in summer leaf.

The make-or-break character, for me, is Uncle Matthew — the one who keeps on his wall the entrenching tool he used to kill eight Germans in the Great War, who thinks education is completely wasted on women, and who hunts children on horseback as if they were foxes. A less intelligent adaptation might have portrayed him unsympathetically. But here, Dominic West is able to play him absolutely dead straight: a character, yes; a nutcase, probably; but certainly not someone of whom one is expected to disapprove.

The frustrating thing about Netflix’s new hit series Jupiter’s Legacy is that just as it starts to get really exciting, it judders to a halt, with a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved for 18 months as we wait for Season Two, which I’m sure will be better than the first.

Not that Season One isn’t hugely enjoyable. But it does comprise quite a bit of place-setting. This is going to be a truly epic superhero saga, with a huge cast of complex characters participating in a broad sweep of history from the Wall Street Crash to the near-future. So, reasonably enough, we need to get to know them first — their foibles and rivalries, how they got their superpowers, the moral schemata that underpins the whole show.

If you think superheroes are just for kids, you might be surprised by how dark and deep this show is prepared to go. At its heart is the question: if you had superpowers sufficiently great for you to be able to change the course of history would it be right for you to do so?

Devoutly Christian chief protagonist Sheldon (Josh Duhamel) is adamant that it wouldn’t. That’s why he binds his fellow superheroes to a code that forbids them from killing anyone or meddling in politics. But the others, such as his brother Walter (Ben Daniels) and his son Brandon (Andrew Horton), aren’t quite so convinced, especially when they start losing buddies to increasingly psychopathic supervillains but aren’t allowed to retaliate in kind. These tensions come to a head in the season’s shocking climax.

For some the show is too earnest. It’s certainly missing the sheer joyful irresponsibility you find in such Millar creations as Kingsman and Kick-Ass. But both the latter were screenwritten (Jane Goldman) and directed (Matthew Vaughn) by English people who are totally comfortable with concepts such as irony, feyness, and self-deprecation, whereas Jupiter’s Legacy feels much more sincere, butch and American.

That said, we get lots more of the books’ most interesting character — Sheldon’s gorgeous dropout daughter Chloe (the superb Elena Kampouris), who has zero interest in following in Dad’s footsteps and so squanders all her talents on drugs and casual sex with unsuitable men, which she finances by being a supermodel with the supergift of looking totally great even after overdosing on a giant bag of mysterious blue crystals.

This is the kind of detail that makes Millar so endlessly watchable. I don’t think there’s a writer in the world who creates such a plethora of fantastically inventive material: I just wish he could get more of it on the screen sooner, preferably with Goldman screenwriting it and Vaughn directing it.

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