Not only does Emily Mortimer write, direct and act in the much anticipated show, she appears to have employed at least 12 members of her family and close friends in the production – including her mother, two children and two nephews
It wouldn’t be the first time the acting profession has been labelled incestuous.
But a glance at the star-strewn cast for new BBC drama The Pursuit Of Love suggests that a number of them were extremely well acquainted long before the series started filming last year.
Not only does Emily Mortimer write, direct and act in the much anticipated show, she appears to have employed at least 12 members of her family and close friends in the production – including her mother, two children and two nephews.
The three-part series, which starts next Sunday, is based on Nancy Mitford’s classic novel and tells the tale of the Radletts, a family loosely based on Mitford’s with her six aristocratic siblings.
It includes such famously colourful characters as the many-times-married Bolter, played by Mortimer, and Uncle Matthew, who hunts his children across the Oxfordshire countryside with bloodhounds.
But as The Mail on Sunday can reveal, the connections between Mortimer’s cast members are almost as close and tangled as those between the Mitfords themselves.
Tongues first started wagging when two of the show’s A-list leads, Lily James and married Dominic West, were photographed smooching during an alfresco lunch in Rome last year.
While their fellow actors might not have reached quite such a scale of intimacy, they are certainly close – related by blood or through long-established family ties.
Those appearing on the credits include Mortimer’s lifelong friends, the aforementioned West and Dolly Wells, her bridesmaid Martha West and two members of the famous Fox acting dynasty, who are close to the sprawling Mortimer clan.
Even Mortimer’s brother-in-law has a role to play in the inter-war drama, one of the first to be filmed amid Covid-19 restrictions, which are said to have added nearly £2 million to the eventual £10.8 million cost.
The recruitment policy for the series might seem rather cosy, not to say convenient, to some.
But Mortimer – daughter of the late Rumpole author John Mortimer – has openly admitted she enjoys the freedom of a director to ‘choose who they want’ for roles and is well-known for having friends and family alongside her on set.
Some were also cast in her 2013 sitcom Doll & Em, which imagined her childhood friend Dolly Wells as her assistant. Others contributed behind the scenes.
West, 51, (left) star of The Wire, Les Miserables and The Affair, is more in demand than ever. But he was happy to clear his busy schedule for his long-time friend Mortimer, whom he has known ‘for years’
In a recent interview, she admitted that casting her own children could be seen as ‘total nepotism and much frowned upon’ but countered that they were both ‘good actors’ who had been cast in a major Hollywood film.
No rules have been broken, but credits for The Pursuit Of Love might seem hard to square with BBC guidelines on the matter, which state that productions ‘should always be accessible to all to ensure that we are able to make the most of the very best, diverse talent’.
Charles Collier, founder of the production company behind the drama, Open Book, said: ‘You have to reserve the right as an artist to be inspired by the people you know and the people who are the inspiration in your life.
‘You can’t just suddenly box-tick and say well, none of that matters. It’s not in any way removing opportunity from others.
‘Emily’s children Sam and May were at the top of her list but had to go through the same rigorous casting process.
‘Their mum would not have asked us to see them and we as producers would have said “On your bike” had they not been any good. It really is a creative community. It’s absolutely the way in which theatre, film and TV has always worked. It’s not jobs for mates, it’s because they’re right for the role. It’s totally normal to get creative communities that naturally come together.’
So who made Mortimer’s exclusive director’s cut? How are they all connected – and to whom?
The in-demand 32-year-old Lily James (right) shares a talent agency, Tavistock Wood, with Mortimer and four other cast members, who include Dominic West, Freddie Fox and his mother, Joanna. Lily knows Freddie through drama school
DOMINIC WEST: Uncle Matthew
West, 51, star of The Wire, Les Miserables and The Affair, is more in demand than ever. But he was happy to clear his busy schedule for his long-time friend Mortimer, whom he has known ‘for years’.
The original link was with Polly Astor, the daughter of Conservative MP Michael Astor, one of Mortimer’s closest childhood friends. West was in a relationship with Polly before his marriage to landscape designer Catherine FitzGerald, and they had a baby together in 1998 – a daughter named Martha.
MARTHA WEST: Jassy Radlett
That baby is now 23 and an actress in her own right. And, thanks to her mother and father, her connections to Mortimer also run deep. She was chosen to be bridesmaid at Mortimer’s 2003 wedding to actor and producer Alessandro Nivola, and is also godmother to their 17-year-old eldest son Samuel. Martha plays the youngest Radlett daughter, Jassy, whose childhood ambition is to run away from home.
FREDDIE FOX: Tony Kroesig
Fox, 32, is part of the Fox family acting dynasty, son of Day Of The Jackal star Edward Fox.
Emily’s nephew Felix (pictured) is in the show, but she has not said which part he plays
He is the godson to Mortimer’s late father, Sir John, the celebrated barrister-turned-author who wrote Rumpole Of The Bailey. Fox attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Lily James, who plays the lead in The Pursuit Of Love. Fox, who starred as convicted killer Jeremy Bamber in ITV’s White House Farm, will play Tony Kroesig in Mortimer’s drama, the enigmatic heir to a wealthy banking family who falls in love with Linda Radlett.
JOANNA DAVID and PENELOPE GOLLOP (Bitchy ladies at Ritz)
In a sign of how close the Fox and Mortimer families are, Freddie’s mother, actress Joanna David, bags a role in the show. She starred in two episodes of the 1980 television adaptation of Mitford’s second Radlett novel, Love In A Cold Climate. This time she only has a bit part – as ‘bitchy lady in the Ritz’.
She is joined on screen in a cameo from Mortimer’s mother, Penny.
She and Joanna have been friends for years and once lived next door to each other in West London.
Emily’s nephew Felix is in the show, but she has not said which part he plays.
Felix bagged a small role in Doll & Em. Another unnamed nephew is also set to appear in the drama.
Dolly, 49, (right) and Emily co-wrote and starred together in the Sky series Doll & Em and Dolly has appeared in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the horror spoof Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
DOLLY WELLS (Aunt Sadie)
One of Mortimer’s best friends, they are ‘so close to the point where it’s almost weird’, Emily has said.
They have known each other since they were seven, thanks to the friendship between their fathers – Dolly’s father was the late John Wells, the actor, satirist and Private Eye contributor.
Dolly, 49, and Emily co-wrote and starred together in the Sky series Doll & Em and Dolly has appeared in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the horror spoof Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
SAM AND MAY NIVOLA (Matt and Jassy Radlett)
Mortimer’s two children with her husband Alessandro have not been overlooked. Sam, 17, plays a teenage Matt Radlett while 11-year-old May stars as the young Jassy. The siblings are also set to appear in an unnamed Hollywood film, still in production.
Mortimer’s two children with her husband Alessandro have not been overlooked. Sam, 17, plays a teenage Matt Radlett while 11-year-old May (pictured) stars as the young Jassy
GEORGE VJESTICA (helped compose soundtrack)
Vjestica is married to Mortimer’s younger sister, Rosie, and happens to be the guitarist in rock group Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. He recruited several of his high-profile music mates to form an ‘awesome band’ to play their arrangement of ‘D’ye Ken John Peel’ for a scene at a ball where Linda Radlett meets Tony Kroesig.
This impromptu set-up included members of The Pogues, The Specials and The Bad Seeds.
Vjestica (pictured) is married to Mortimer’s younger sister, Rosie, and happens to be the guitarist in rock group Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
DOMINIC GERAGHTY (Fascist banker)
Another long-term friend of Mortimer, he attended Trinity College, Dublin, with Dominic West. The pair starred in a number of college shows together, and Geraghty also introduced West to his wife, FitzGerald.
Geraghty is an actor and producer, known for British comedy Churchill: The Hollywood Years, which starred Christian Slater as Churchill.
LILY JAMES (Linda Radlett)
The in-demand 32-year-old shares a talent agency, Tavistock Wood, with Mortimer and four other cast members, who include Dominic West, Freddie Fox and his mother, Joanna. Lily knows Freddie through drama school.
It has been reported that Lily, star of The Dig and Rebecca, will not promote the Mitford drama alongside Dominic West, following the publication of those photographs of them together in Rome.
Meanwhile, the connections don’t end with the cast.
Lily’s Tavistock Wood agency is part of Open Book – a joint production ‘venture’ between BBC Studios and The Curtis Brown Group, and Open Book is one of the production companies that made… The Pursuit Of Love!