Aunt Sadie Radlett (Celia Imrie)
An enhanced portrait of Nancy Mitford's mother, Sydney, Lady Redesdale (1880-1963), Aunt Sadie is Linda and Jassy's kind, rather vague mother, who tries in vain to keep control at Alconleigh.
One of Britain's best loved actresses, Celia Imrie drew inspiration from filming at Batsford Park, the Mitfords' home early in the 20th century and a model for Alconleigh.
"I remember when I first saw a Van Gogh painting when I was in America, the thrill of actually realizing that Van Gogh's paintbrush touched that piece of canvas was so exciting. And the thought that Nancy Mitford would have walked on the same steps, into the same room that we we're filming in, it really does give you a little something extra. And the way that our designers had 'dressed' the place, it looked as though they have never left." Imrie also had to contend with people's ideas of who Aunt Sadie should be. "You know, it's the same with any famous book. If it's Alice in Wonderland, people have their own idea of what Alice should be like, and it's the same with Aunt Sadie. So you have just got to try and do your own version." With a wealth of theatrical, television, and film experience, Imrie has created performances cherished by the viewing public and hailed by critics. Her television work includes Gormenghast and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Her film credits include Frankenstein, In the Bleak Midwinter, The Borrowers, Star Wars: Episode 1, Hilary And Jackie, and Bridget Jones's Diary. Her stage work includes Rough Magic, The Last Waltz, A Month in the Country, and The School for Scandal.
In Mitford's words: Aunt Sadie Radlett: There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh. The table is situated, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, in the hall in front of a huge open fire of logs..... Aunt Sadie's face, always beautiful, appears strangely round, her fair strangely fluffy, and her clothes strangely dowdy, but it is unmistakably she who sits there with Robin, in oceans of lace, lolling on her knee. She seems uncertain what to do with his head, and the presence of Nanny waiting to take him way is felt though not seen. The other children, between Louisa's eleven and Matt's two years, sit round the table in party dresses or frilly bibs, holding cups or mugs according to age, all of them gazing at the camera with large eyes opened wide by the flash, and all looking as if butter would not melt in their round pursed-up mouths. There they are, held like flies in the amber of the moment -- click goes the camera and on goes life; the minutes, the days, the years, the decades, taking them further and further from that happiness and promise of youth, from the hopes Aunt Sadie must have had for them, and from the dreams they dreamed for themselves. I often think there is nothing quite so poignantly sad as old family photographs. The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 1
Uncle Matthew Radlett (Alan Bates)
Uncle Matthew, head of the Radlett family, was modeled on Nancy Mitford's own father, Lord Redesdale. Prone to volcanic eruptions, Uncle Matthew is forever roaring his outrageous views about anyone who happens to be anything other English. But actor Alan Bates thinks Matthew is sentimental at heart. "He is a lovable old softie, really. Underneath that mock rage and that fiery temper and extremely violent reaction to things, he can be very emotional, which is very interesting. A song can set him off, and I think it would have had an awful lot to do with his experiences during World War I." Bates, one of Britain's greatest actors, was drawn to Deborah Moggach's screenplay instantly. "You cannot help but have fun with a script like this," says Bates. "Uncle Matthew is so outrageous and so politically incorrect. And it's extraordinary to have the license to say such terrible things." In 1956, at the age of 22, Bates appeared in John Osbome's groundbreaking play, Look Back in Anger, which launched his rise to international fame. In 1960 he made his first film, The Entertainer, and more than 50 film roles followed, including The Fixer, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. His television credits include title roles in The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hard Time and Bertie and Elizabeth, as well as 0liver's Travels, Dr. Fischer of Geneva, and 102 Boulevard Haussmann.
In Mitford's words: Uncle Matthew Radlett: It was an accepted fact at Alconleigh that Uncle Matthew loathed me. This violent, uncontrolled man, like his children, knew no middle course; he either loved or he hated, and generally, it must be said, hated. His reason for hating me was that he hated my father; they were old Eton enemies. When it became obvious, and obvious it was from the hour of my conception, that my parents intended to doorstep me, Aunt Sadie had wanted to bring me up with Linda. We were the same age, and it had seemed a sensible plan. Uncle Matthew categorically refused. He hated my father, he said, he hated me, but above all he hated children, it was bad enough having two of his own. (He evidently had not envisioned so soon having seven, and indeed both he and Aunt Sadie lived in a perpetual state of surprise at having filled so many cradles, about the future of whose occupants they seemed to have no particular policy.) The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 2
Linda Radlett (Elisabeth Dermot Walsh)
The vivacious and passionate Linda is a composite of Nancy Mitford and her sister Jessica. Linda's quirks, passions, and temperament reflect Mitford's own, while her communist period closely follows Jessica's. "Whenever I had any questions about Linda's motivation, whenever I slightly lost my way," said actress Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, "I simply thought about the title of one of the two novels on which this is based, The Pursuit of Love. And that's what it is. Linda's whole reason for living is the pursuit of love." The daughter of actor Dermot Walsh and actress Elisabeth Scott, Dermot Walsh grew up with acting quite literally in her blood. "I think I'm the fifth generation to act in our family, and I didn't find that out until quite recently. I think they kept it from me!"
For a young actress relatively fresh from drama school -- Dermot Walsh left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts just three years ago -- playing Linda was a big challenge. "I've spoken to a lot of friends who just say, 'Oh God, Linda is my absolute dream role, my favorite heroine.' So I know I've got a lot to live up to." Dermot Walsh has also appeared on television in Unfinished Business, the BBC's acclaimed Falling for a Dancer, and as Octavia in Cleopatra. On stage, she has played Cathy in Wuthering Heights and Hilda in Easy Virtue.
In Mitford's words: Linda Radlett: ... I adored all my cousins, and Linda distilled, mentally and physically, the very essence of the Radlett family. Her straight features, straight brown hair and large blue eyes were a theme upon which the faces of the others were a variation; all pretty but none so absolutely distinctive as hers. There was something furious about her, even when she laughed, which she did a great deal, and always as if forced to against her will." The Pursuit of Love, Part I, Chapter 1
Fanny Logan (Rosamund Pike)
Fanny is based on Mitford's dear friend, Billa Harrod, who was everything Nancy wanted to be: sensible, down to earth, well adjusted, and happily married. Cousin of Linda and friend to Polly, Fanny is the story's narrator. According to actress Rosamund Pike, Fanny "changes a lot during the course of the story. We have the older Fanny, who is telling the story, and she is a lot wittier and has a deeper understanding of all that is going on than the younger one.... She may seem a bit of an outsider, but she is very much of that world, and she has great insight." Like several other members of the production, Pike found that her enjoyment of the novels, and indeed the script, was enhanced by knowing that many of the characters are based on real people. "When you know that, it suddenly becomes so much better, because you realize that it's not being done for comic effect. It's so cleverly observed, at turns dry and very finely pointed with such lovely asides.... It was a really exciting period of time. People were still recovering from the first world war when the second world war was looming. You can feel the storm clouds gathering." While Pike has appeared on television in A Rather English Marriage and Wives and Daughters, Fanny is her first major role. Although born in London, Pike spent much of her childhood traveling with her parents, both of whom are opera singers. She began acting in the National Youth Theatre.
In Mitford's words: Fanny Logan: ...Alfred and I are happy, as happy as married people can be. We are in love, we are intellectually and physically suited in every possible way, we rejoice in each other's company, we have no money troubles and three delightful children. And yet, when I consider my life, day by day, hour by hour, it seems to be composed of a series of pin-pricks. Nannies, cooks, the endless drudgery of housekeeping, the nerve-racking noise and boring repetitive conversation of small children (boring in the sense that it bores into one's brain), their absolute incapacity to amuse themselves, their sudden terrifying illnesses, Alfred's not infrequent bouts of moodiness, his invariable complaints at meals about the pudding, the way he will always use my tooth-paste and will always squeeze the tube in the middle. These are the components of marriage, the whole-meal bread of life, rough, ordinary but sustaining; Linda had been feeding upon honey-dew, and that is an incomparable diet. The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 19
Christian (John Light)
Christian's character reflects aspects of the personality of Peter Rodd (1904-1968), Mitford's husband from 1933 until their divorce in 1958. Like Christian, Rodd had an idealistic streak; he helped to organize refugees in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Actor John Light plays this charismatic communist whose politics take precedence over love. He has played a young Reggie in the Masterpiece Theatre's award-winning A Rather English Marriage and Major Wetherby in Unknown Soldier. His other credits include Mary Mother of Jesus and the film Purpo$e.
In Mitford's words: Christian: ... He was an extraordinarily handsome young man, tall and fair, in a completely different way from that of Tony, thin and very English-looking. His clothes were outrageous -- he wore a really old pair of grey flannel trousers, full of little round moth-holes in the most embarrassing places, no coat, and a flannel shirt, one of the sleeves of which had a tattered tear from wrist to elbow. The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 12
Fabrice (Samuel Labarthe)
Fabrice is based on Gaston Palewski (1901-1984), the love of Mitford's life from 1942, when they met while he was in London as aide to General de Gaulle, to 1969, when he broke her heart by marrying another woman. French actor Samuel Labarthe plays this attractive but infamous philanderer. Labarthe's credits include the films Lacenaire. L' Accompagnatrice, Priez pour nous and La Bûche. On television, he has appeared in Le Jardin des plantes, La Comète, Le Crabe sur la banquette arrière, and De plein fouet.
In Mitford's words: Fabrice: [Linda] became aware that somebody was standing beside her, not an old lady but a short, stocky, very dark Frenchman in a black Homburg hat. He was laughing. Linda took no notice, but went on crying. The more she cried, the more he laughed. Her tears were of rage now, no longer self-pity. The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 16
Cedric Hampton (Daniel Evans)
A composite of Mitford's gay friends, poet Brian Howard (1905-1958) and painter Stephen Tennant (1906-1987), Cedric Hampton is Polly's glamorous cousin. Skillfully manipulative, he has Lord and Lady Montdore eating out of his hand. Actor Daniel Evans's previous credits include Herbert Pocket in 1999 adaptation of Great Expectations and Lysander in the Adrian Noble film A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In Mitford's words: Cedric Hampton
"There were footsteps now in the red drawing room, so we had not heard the motor, after all. Lord and Lady Montdore got up and stood together in front of the fireplace as the butler opened the door and announced, "Mr. Cedric Hampton." There was a glitter of blue and gold across the parquet, and a human dragon-fly was kneeling on the fur rug in front of the Montdores, one long white hand extended towards each. He was a tall, thin young man, supple as a girl, dressed in rather a bright blue suit; his hair was the fold of a brass bed knob, and his insect appearance came from the fact that the upper part of his face was concealed by blue goggles set in gold rims quite an inch thick.
He was flashing a smile of unearthly perfection. Relaxed and happy, he knelt there bestowing this smile on each Montdore in turn." Love in a Cold Climate, Part II, Chapter 3
Boy Dougdale (Anthony Andrews)
Boy Dougdale -- known as the "Lecherous Lecturer" to the girls -- is a dandy ostracized for marrying an aristocrat half his age. We first meet Boy at Lady Montdore's home, where he panders to his mistress's vanity and is not (perhaps unwisely) seen as a threat by her husband, Lord Montdore. Actor Anthony Andrews admits he needed some convincing before he accepted the part of Boy Dougdale. "Let's be honest -- he's pretty revolting," smiles Andrews. "When you read the books, and indeed the wonderful scripts, you realize that this man is the catalyst for the downfall of everything. It all goes wrong when he is on the scene. Boy is a role player. If you are talking about art, he is in his element, but it would be the same if you discussed the aristocracy, houses, architecture, whatever. So in that sense he is the perfect houseguest. He's perfectly suited to Lady Montdore in a way, because his masterly approach to all these subjects makes him ideal dinner-party fodder, ideal socializing material." In a career spanning three decades, Andrews is perhaps best known for playing Sebastian Flyte in the award-winning adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Other notable television credits include Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as David (as Steerforth in 1974 and as Mr. Murdstone in 2000), The Scarlet Pimpemel, Ivanhoe, The Pallisers, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, AD Anno Domini, and Mothertime. He now runs his own successful production company. He lives in London and Wiltshire with his wife and children.
In Mitford's words: Boy Dougdale: ... He gave me the creeps, with his crinkly black hair going grey now and his perky, jaunty figure. He was shorter than his wife and tried to make up for this by having very thick soles to his shoes. He always looked horribly pleased with himself; the corners of his mouth turned up when his face was in repose, and if he was at all put out they turned up even more in a maddening smile. Love in a Cold Climate, Part I, Chapter 3
Lord Merlin (John Wood)
Lord Merlin is based on Mitford's good friend Gerald Berners (1883-1950), a musician, painter, and author. Like the character he inspired, Berners dyed his pigeons pink, adorned his dogs with diamond collars, and celebrated the hour of his birth each night. Actor John Wood's credits include the films War Games, Shadowlands, Rasputin, The Avengers, An Ideal Husband, Longitude, The Little Vampire, and Chocolat. On television he has appeared in The Clothes in the Wardrobe, Memento Man, and Tartuffe.
In Mitford's words: Lord Merlin: He was a great collector, and not only Merlinford, but also his houses in London and Rome flowed over with treasures ... Lord Merlin loved jewels; his two black whippets wore diamond necklaces designer for whiter, but not slimmer or more graceful necks that theirs.…His taste was by no means confined to antiques; he was an artist and a musician himself, and the patron of all the young. Modern music streamed perpetually from Merlinford, and he had built a small but exquisite playhouse in the garden.… Such a man was bound to become a sort of legend to the bluff Cotswold squires among whom he lived. But, although, they could not approve of an existence which left out of account the killing, though by no means the eating, of delicious game, and though they were puzzled beyond words by the aestheticism and the teases, they accepted him without question as one of themselves. he Pursuit of Love, Chapter 5
Lady Montdore (Sheila Gish)
Lady Montdore is a composite of Nancy Mitford's mother-in-law, Lady Rennell, and Helen Dashwood (1899-1989), whom Mitford called "Hell Bags." A terrible snob and an outrageous flirt -- especially with her favorite courtier, Boy Dougdale -- she is a woman determined to manipulate the lives of those around her, not least of all her beautiful daughter Polly.
Actress Shelia Gish points out that Lady Montdore is not a character who blends into the background. "The Montdores are old English aristocracy, but there is something slightly nouveau about Sonia. Although she is unspeakably grand, of course..."
While Gish first read Mitford's novels in the 1960s, she enjoyed re-reading them even more. "I'd always adored the books, and when I read Deborah Moggach's scripts I was thrilled. The books and the screenplay have huge style and a wonderful eccentricity. I think it's important that people know that this is not about 'removed' posh people; it's about the fact that these people are like no one else in the world. There isn't a parallel in France or America or wherever. It's a particularly English thing. It shows our particular madness and our sense of irony."
Gish's television credits include Stanley and the Women, The House of Eliott, Danielle Steel's Jewels, Resnick, Rough Treatment, Brighton Belles, and numerous guest appearances on Mystery!'s Inspector Morse. On film she can be seen in Mansfield Park, Highlander, and Highlander: Endgame.
In Mitford's words: Lady Montdore: She was born a Miss Perrotte, the handsome daughter of a country squire of small means and no particular note, so that her marriage to Lord Montdore was a far better one than she could reasonably have been expected to make. As time went on, when her worldly greed and snobbishness, her terrible relentless rudeness had become proverbial and formed the subject of many a legendary tale, people were inclined to suppose that her origins must have been low or transatlantic, but, in fact, she was perfectly well born and had been decently brought up, what used to be called 'a lady,' so that there were no mitigating circumstances, and she ought to have known better. Love in a Cold Climate, Part I, Chapter 1
The Bolter (Frances Barber)
Fanny's mother pursues love and happiness the only way she knows how -- by bolting from one man to another. She leaves her daughter Fanny to be raised by her sister Emily and shows not a trace of guilt. One of the biggest challenges was perfecting the very specific aristocratic accent of the time, says actress Frances Barber. "Accents change, and the way they spoke then is not the way that the aristocracy speak now. Even the royal family don't speak that way anymore. But it was absolutely the right decision to use those accents, because it's so much of its time. "We listened to dozens of tapes of the Mitfords speaking to make sure that we got it right. But Celia Imrie... played a little joke on me. I arrived on set later than the rest of them.... So there I was in my first scene doing my accent, speaking in that very specific, posh way, and she suddenly leant over and whispered, 'You look a bit of a fool. None of us are doing that accent now.' Fortunately, she was pulling my leg." Barber is a well-known British actress who can be seen in BBC dramas such as Real Women, The Ice House, and Rhodes. She has also made countless guest appearances in popular dramas such as Mystery!'s Inspector Morse and Poirot. Her films include Peter Greenaway's A Zed and Two Noughts and Sammy And Rosie Get Laid. She has just finished filming Superstition, a thriller with Mark Strong and Charlotte Rampling.
In Mitford's words: The Bolter ; She was curiously dated in her manner, and seemed still seemed to be living in the 1920s. It was as though, at the age of thirty-five, having refused to grow any older, she had pickled herself, both mentally and physically, ignoring the fact that the world was changing and that she was withering fast. She had a short canary-coloured shingle (windswept) and wore trousers with the air of one still flouting the conventions, ignorant that every suburban shopgirl was doing the same. Her conversation, her point of view, the very slang she used, all belonged to the late twenties, that period now deader than the dodo. She was intensely unpractical, foolish, and apparently fragile, and yet she must have been quite a tough little person really, to have walked over the Pyrenees, to have escaped from a Spanish camp, and to have arrived at Alconleigh looking as if she had stepped out of the chorus of No, No, Nanette. The Pursuit of Love, Chapter 20
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