Newcomers star in Mitford saga


As rebellious beauties trying to break free of the constraints of society, their characters are loosely based on the scandalous Mitford sisters.

But the young actresses starring in BBC TV's adaptation of Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate have rather colourful backgrounds themselves.

Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh, who plays Linda, was a favoured dining companion of film director Michael Winner at 19 while Megan Dodds, who plays Polly, began her career with a sensational strip act as part of a West End play.

Rosamund Pike, who brings the character of Fanny to life, 'did a runner' from her studies at Oxford to pursue her acting career.

This trio of newcomers - who grace the cover of the latest Radio Times - appear with Alan Bates, Sheila Gish, Frances Barber and Anthony Andrews in the two-part £3million drama, which starts on Sunday. The adaptation, by novelist Deborah Moggach, follows the attempts of three upper-class girls to find love in the period between the world wars.

Linda, played by Miss Dermot-Walsh, is the favourite child of Lord Alconleigh. She flees with her communist lover to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War in a plot which mirrors the life of Nancy Mitford's sister Jessica.

The 25-year-old actress comes closest to sharing the Mitfords' social standing. She 'came out' as a 17-year-old debutante and attended West Heath school, where Princess Diana was a pupil.

Her father is the actor Dermot Walsh - TV's Richard the Lionheart - while her late mother, Elisabeth Scott, was also an actress. In 1994, she worked as Michael Winner's receptionist and became something of a star in his eyes, described as 'excruciatingly beautiful' and 'lovely'.

She went to RADA for three years and since then has appeared in the Irish drama Falling For A Dancer and the sitcom Unfinished Business.

Megan Dodds plays heiress Polly, the daughter of Lord Merlin and Lady Mountdore, and one of the most eligible women in England. She embarks on an liaison with Boy, played by Anthony Andrews.

Highly strung and emotionally cold, the character bears some resemblance to Diana Mitford, famed for her beauty and marriage to Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

Miss Dodds, 30, who was born in California, made her name with her performance as a centrefold turned actress in Ben Elton's play Popcorn. She recently played society hostess Virginia Troy in Channel Four's adaptation of Waugh's Sword of Honour.

Rosamund Pike, at 20, is the youngest of the stars. She plays Fanny, who as narrator of the story, is a Nancy Mitford figure, observing the alliances made around her. Miss Pike interrupted her studies at Oxford to play Lady Harriet in the BBC's Wives and Daughters, and dropped out again to start rehearsals for Love In A Cold Climate.

'I actually did a runner,' she said. 'I kept meaning to mention it when I went to tutorials, but it never seemed like the right moment.'

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