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Why Linda From The Pursuit Of Love Looks So Familiar

If you don't have the time or stamina to give multi-season period pieces like "Peaky Blinders" or "Outlander" a watch, you can still fully submerge yourself in the past and indulge your inner English Major in one fell swoop with Amazon's "The Pursuit of Love." Set in early 20th-century England, the series was adapted from Nancy Mitford's thinly-veiled autobiographical novel of the same name by actor-director Emily Mortimer. It investigates the contrasting responses that two upper-class cousins and foils Franny and Linda have to the time and society into which they were born. In her adaptation, Mortimer employs a deliberately anachronistic score (via The Atlantic) and vibrant color palette to highlight the timelessness of the struggles that the two main women in Mitford's novel face, and relies on the acting chops of stars Emily Beecham (Franny) and Lily James (Linda) to give the archetypal cousins both nuance and dimension. 

It's little wonder the latter of these talents landed the role of "The Pursuit of Love"'s restless and romantic Linda Radlett. James' now-familiar face has been gracing both big screens and television sets for just a little over a decade, and yet, it's unlikely "The Pursuit of Love" will act as most viewers' introduction to the star. In her relatively short but prolific career, James has slipped in and out of a range of time periods and found herself tasked with injecting depth and humanity into fairy tales, "Abbeys," musicals, myths, and more.

James is no stranger to book adaptations

Years before breathing life into Mortimer's version of Linda Radlett, Lily James made her acting debut (and landed her near-immediate follow-up role) in television adaptations of books. In 2010, James starred as Ethel Brown in the BBC One four-episode reboot of "Just William," a distinctly British comedy based on Richmal Crompton's beloved series of children's books by the same name. (Think: British "Little Rascals" meets British "Dennis the Menace.") Although the creators chose to set their rendition in the 1950s, most of the books (and their many previous television adaptations) take place in the same time period as "The Pursuit of Love," which means that James very nearly began her career in the same era in which the Amazon mini-series recently placed her. Following "Just William," James starred as Chloe in director Edward Dick's comedic short, "Chloe and Will's Hot Date Night," but it was what she did next that first brought her to the attention of audiences outside the U.K. 

In 2011, James graduated from children's books to more adult material (in every sense of the term) with her turn as the troubled Poppy in the final season of Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." The British drama was based on "Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl" — the popular anonymous blog and eventual book series by Belle de Jour (aka Brooke Magnanti) — and allowed James to explore her range as an actor. It was an exploration she'd continue to embrace for the next two years, starring in roles as diverse in nature as young warrior Korrina in Jonathan Liebesman's action-packed "Wrath of the Titans" to the conflicted older version of Skunk in Rufus Norris' award-winning coming-of-age drama, "Broken." In 2015, the actor would greet her widest audience yet, and in yet another book adaptation, albeit one that was centuries removed from its original telling.

She brought a Disney staple back to the big screen

Nearly two decades after Drew Barrymore brought her characteristic enthusiasm to the age-old yarn of Cinderella in Andy Tennant's beloved incarnation, "Ever After: a Cinderella Story," Hollywood felt audiences were once again hungry for a return to the tales of their childhood. Enter: Kenneth Branagh, who injected his usual directorial panache into a live-action reboot of the classic Disney movie in 2015's "Cinderella," where he cast Lily James in the title role. James dazzled audiences and critics alike, and not just for the ease with which she pulled off the film's decadent, award-winning costumes

In Branagh's mostly direct adaptation of the animated classic, James held her own alongside A-list co-stars Cate Blanchett (as her stepmother) and Helena Bonham Carter (as her fairy godmother), and critics took note. Comparing her portrayal of the fairy tale princess to that of her demanding role as the progressive Lady Rose in "Downton Abbey," RogerEbert.com reviewer Susan Wloszczyna wrote that James "relies on some of that same female fortitude" to "bring Cinderella to vivid life."

Speaking of "Downton Abbey," it's all but impossible not to see the connection between James' delightful portrayal of Lady Rose MacClare in the Emmy Award-winning hit series, and her equally charming (if occasionally less formidable) depiction of Linda Radlett in "The Pursuit of Love." For one thing, the two characters embody a near-exact place in both time and society, and one to which James is no stranger.   

A real time traveler

The similarities in time and space between Lady Rose and Linda Radlett notwithstanding, James' career has been peppered with period pieces throughout — in part, because it's exactly these types of stories to which the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London alum is most drawn, via IMDb. In a 2018 interview with the Belfast Telegraph, James said she's "always loved the romance of period dramas and the scale of those stories and the escapism of being in a different time...I think that the storytelling is so rich." In that same interview, she addressed the manner in which these bygone eras can and do remain relevant to modern audiences, saying that "just because no one is using an iPhone doesn't mean that it can't be challenging." 

Other roles wherein the actor has no need of an iPhone include 2016's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," 2017's Oscar-winning "Darkest Hour," and the 2016 six-part mini-series "War And Peace," where James follows in the footsteps of Audrey Hepburn in tackling Leo Tolstoy's paramount of womanly perfection, Natasha Rostov. If you haven't been keeping track, that's over half-a-dozen period pieces in fewer than a dozen years — and yet, the actor has somehow defied the laws of Hollywood physics by refusing to be pigeonholed. (A fate that befell at least one of her comparable contemporaries, however unfairly, per BuzzFeed.) Consequently, if you've somehow managed to miss every single one of these lavish, historically-set stories, it's possible you've seen the star in one of the other box office whoppers she has up her sleeve — neither of which required she wear a corset.

The musical that fueled her meteoric rise

In 2017, Lily James took a detour from her usual M.O. (while keeping her career squarely on track) with her depiction of diner waitress Debora in Edgar Wright's Oscar-nominated and expertly scored genre-blender, "Baby Driver." A less adept actor might easily have let Debora slip silently into the passenger seat occupied by so many archetypal "quirky love-at-first-sight interest" types (formerly known as the dreaded/divisive "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope), but James' Debora turns out to be one of the highlights of a film packed to the gills with things to get excited about. (So many, in fact, that audiences were happy to disregard any of its arguable shortcomings.) Her return to the past in both "Darkest Hour" and "The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society" (yep, another book adaptation) followed her (second?) breakthrough performance in "Baby Driver," but it was her (third, at this point) breakthrough performance in a beloved musical's "prequel-sequel" that turned James into a household name worldwide. 

If the 2008 movie adaptation of the hit musical "Mamma Mia!" helped propel Amanda Seyfried to the big screen, its sequel, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" helped cement James' place there. The film saw James take on one of her most challenging roles to date, as the young adult version of Meryl Streep's Donna — a role that, understandably, initially intimidated her. "I really panicked about taking on the role of Donna after Meryl had so magically and vividly brought it to life," she told The Independent's Kathryn Shattuck in a 2018 interview. As it turns out, James had little reason to panic. The sequel received mostly glowing reviews, and ultimately outshone its predecessor on Rotten Tomatoes' critic-driven Tomatometer, receiving a score of 79% to the original's lukewarm 55%.

'The past' is relative

Unfortunately, for fans of the actor's flagship television role as "Downton Abbey"'s Lady Rose, all this exposure and acclaim was, in part, the reason James was left out of the highly anticipated 2019 "Downton Abbey" movie. Luckily, thanks to Emily Mortimer's adaptation of "The Pursuit of Love," longtime fans of the multifaceted actor are getting another opportunity to see her charm, defy, and disarm as a character from the past who has plenty to remind us about the present. 

Of course, if audiences thought her recent return to post-WWI high society signaled a permanent move away from modernity for James, they thought wrong. In James' next big television project, Hulu's upcoming "Pam & Tommy," the chameleon of an actor will play none other than former "Baywatch" star — and one of the first celebs to fall victim to a sex tape scandal — Pamela Anderson. And yet, to be fair, her dramatic transformation into the thin-browed, French-tipped, frosted-lipped '90s icon (via Elle) makes "Pam & Tommy" just as much of a period piece as any of James' previous pivots into the past.