The Messy But True Stories That Inspired Amazon Prime's The Pursuit of Love

Lily James portrays Linda Radlett in Amazon Prime's The Pursuit of Love, a mini-series based on the book and life of beloved English socialite Nancy Mitford.

By Cydney Contreras Aug 02, 2021 12:00 AMTags
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If there was ever a family to inspire books, TV shows and movies, it makes sense that it would be the Mitfords. 

Though they're relatively unknown in the United States, the aristocrats are the English equivalent of the Kennedys in the sense that they're famous, rich and no stranger to family drama. Moreover, the Mitfords were well-acquainted with Britain's elite in their heyday, running in the same circles as influential figures like Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, though some distanced themselves from the Führer for obvious reasons.

Unlike the Kennedys, the Mitford men were largely outnumbered by their female counterparts, with Lord and Lady Redesdale welcoming six daughters and only one son. 

Those six Mitford daughters—Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah—would go on to become the subjects of tabloid fodder, as one does when they ruffle as many feathers as they did. But rather than bristle at their status, the women turned their misfortunes into actual fortunes by writing books and becoming celebrities in their own right. 

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Emily Mortimer's take on Nancy's novel The Pursuit of Love is proof of such success. The semi-autobiographical book is narrated by Fanny, who is an amalgamation of the sisters. But the main character is Linda Radlett, a witty and not entirely disagreeable woman with not a care in the world. And though Linda isn't described in the best of light, often being referred to as an "aimless" socialite, it's understood that Nancy used her own experiences to craft the complicated character.

One must only read about Nancy's longterm tryst with French politician Gaston Palewski to see the similarities in her and Linda's lives, as dark as they may be. Even Jessica, who wrote the foreword for the 1981 edition of The Pursuit of Love, remembered reading the book and immediately questioning her sister, wanting to know if she was in the midst of a love affair with a Frenchman. How did Nancy, who is portrayed by Lily James, respond to the interrogation? "As a matter of fact I am."

Regarding the rest of the characters, it's at times hard to tell who is based on who, seeing as they share similar stories and experiences. For example, most of the sisters were widely unsuccessful in their marriages, save for Deborah and Unity—though the latter never married at all in her 33 years of life. 

Then there's the matter of their political affiliations, which were regarded as scandalous but nonetheless spurred great topics of conversation. Unity, Pamela and Diana were devoted followers of Hitler, so much so Unity tried to kill herself at the start of World War II. Her attempt to take her life failed terribly and she spent the last few years of her life disabled and in a care home. 

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On the other hand, Nancy, a supporter of communism, so vehemently opposed their political involvement, she informed the British intelligence of her sisters' loyalty to the dictator, according to the BBC. As a result, Diana was arrested and spent three years in prison, followed by a house arrest that lasted until the end of the second world war. 

Clearly, their differences in opinion led to some family friction and it's rumored that they only spoke once after Nancy betrayed Diana. 

But in Jessica's foreword, she wrote that the family wasn't cross with Nancy for airing their dirty laundry. After all, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate were not nearly as salacious as the real subject matter. 

Robert Viglasky/Amazon Studios

And if she had spilled the tea, as we say these days, it seems their parents paid it no mind. According to Jessica, their mother, who is represented by Aunt Sadie in the book, said it was an amusing take on their lives, though "she doubted if anybody outside the family would want to read it because they wouldn't understand the jokes."

Obviously, their mother was proven wrong in her prediction, as the Mitford family is now looked upon with fascination, despite their shortcomings. This much is clear in Emily Mortimer's adaption of The Pursuit of Love, streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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