In Pursuit of Love (2021)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Based on a somewhat scandalous and funny novel, In Pursuit of Love follows the misadventures of one love-obsessed young woman named Linda (Lily James) and her far more reliable, sensible cousin, Fanny (Emily Beecham). Fanny tells us that life with Linda has always been somewhat interesting, since if she's not in the depths of despair and threatening to throw herself off a balcony, she's madly in love with a man she cannot have. Stuck in the dreadful home of her cranky father, who refuses to educate any of his children and thinks women knowing history and such is nonsense, Linda longs for a life of excitement -- and finds it when she falls head over heels in love with a dreaded "Hun" and marries him, much to her parents' consternation. Thus, she's thrust into the whirlwind of London society, which she has lusted after for years. Linda "wastes away the best years of her youth" in drunkenness to fill the void inside, while her cousin meets and marries a nice young man who just isn't that interesting.

Soon, the contrast between them becomes apparent. Linda has no liking for her newborn daughter and abandons her to the care of her in-laws in the country, since she finds her not-beautiful and a bore. Fanny devotes her life to tending her children, while longing for more intellectually stimulating conversation. Linda gets in and out of scrapes, often thinking of nobody but herself, whereas Fanny is always there to pull her out of the fire... when Linda permits it. Fanny is also dealing with the emotional repercussions of being the daughter of a notorious "Bolter," a woman who never stays more than a few months with a man and who abandoned her as a child.

There's no moral really, it's part satire and mockery of the social upper classes and their cavalier, self-indulgent lifestyle, and part introspective musing on the lack of opportunities for women at the time. But it doesn't quite know how to find a balance between them, hopping around between blatant absurdities intended to make you laugh, ill-fated love affairs, and Fanny's increasing emotional frustration at home. The cousins love and support each other, but also come to emotional blows when Fanny finds it impossible to tolerate Linda abandoning her daughter exactly the same way her own mother did. But her angry words do no good; Linda remains shallow, self-absorbed, and unreliable. As unlikable as she is, it's a testament to Lily James how much wit, sparkle, and charm she brings to her, so there's never a point where we don't find ourselves forgiving her, rather like Fanny. "An hour later, spent in her company, all was forgiven," Fanny says with a little sigh about her cousin. And it's true. Lily is so special and charismatic, it's impossible not to like her.

But the girl who first won us over as a delightful Cinderella has come a long way -- and we see rather a lot of her here, with numerous mostly-naked moments in the script probably crafted purely for titillation purposes. Beyond that, the costumes are fabulous along with the hair, shoes, and retro cars. The script is funny much of the time, but also veers into sad territory. It has a lot of cute moments in it, but also a lot of unbridled longing for something "more" than these characters' lives. Fanny is stuck being responsible and resenting it, when part of her wishes she could just do whatever she wants all the time like Linda, and Linda needs to become more sensible like her cousin, and not keep flinging herself after meaningless love affairs. It wasn't something that grabbed me and held my attention throughout, but it wasn't a waste of my time either. Rather like the pursuits Linda enjoys, it's a pretty but shallow dish that soon leaves you wanting something else.

Sexual Content:
There's at least 5 instances where you see almost-naked people, or side nudity, or women bathing in a bath barely covered up, or an artist painting people naked from behind, or a naked woman curled up on a man's lap kissing him. One extended sex scene, mostly kissing and moaning and pleasured faces. A woman flits around between sexual partners, and brings up masturbation in conversation. Unmarried people living together, being seen in the same bed. A woman makes a joke about how her friend might get "lucky" on the train.
 
Language:
Nothing much, occasional profanities and uses of "bloody."
 
Violence:
A bomb goes off in a building, sending someone crashing through the floor (she's fine).

Other:
Lots of social drinking, drunkenness, being hung-over, etc.