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Mr. Selfridge, Series One (2013)

Following in the footsteps of BBC’s The Paradise, ITV introduced its own take on the real-life American entrepreneur and the fawning fascination over England’s first department store. Where one is charming and takes some fascinating twists, the other is riddled with clichés and immoralities. Nonetheless, surprisingly both are entertaining. Read on to find out which category this falls into. 

Causing a flutter of gossip and excitement in London is the arrival of Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven). An American businessman looking for investors, Harry has grand plans for an equally grand and lavish department store. For all his optimism, nothing pans out as he planned. Shortly after arrival in England, before even the building has begun, Harry’s investor backs out, thinking the amount of monies his partner is willing to spend on one place. This leaves Harry in a predicament but not enough to stop the internal optimist to give up his dream. This leads him into the acquaintance of Lady Mae Loxsley (Katherine Kelly), a woman with considerable social influence – she knows all the right people but will expect occasional favors from Mr. Selfridge. Among the social introductions is Ellen Love (Zoë Tapper), a wildly popular chorus girl who sets her sights on rising above that of a mere dancer… and Harry plays perfectly into her schemes.

Arriving in London shortly before the grand opening of the store is the Selfridge family. Harry’s wife Rose (Frances O’Conner) is an American beauty who gave up her artistic dreams to raise her family – including her eldest daughter Rosalie (Poppy Lee Friar) who soon becomes swept up in the aristocratic world her father is becoming a part of. 

It’s been a long while since the brilliant Andrew Davies (Pride & Prejudice, ITV’s Sense & Sensibility) brought anything to our screen.  Fortunately, his latest put forth more than a mere 10 hours of opulence and gives us dozens of character’s to puzzle over. In ten episodes, many things happen. We come to know the characters which the camera focuses on. Everyone from an eager shop girl named Agnes (Aisling Loftus) to an opportunist painter who’s as devious as Harry is. Despite our best attempts to remain impartial or become attached to many of them, we inevitably do, picking champions and villains along the way. There aren’t many characters easy to like in this soapy drama. If we are being honest, this has to be said. Each of them has their soapbox moments and each have their redeeming qualities but as each rotating theme falls into the same patterns and follows on the same path of destruction and immoral behavior, it becomes a revolving door none of them are successful at sidestepping.  

Early on, Davies introduces us to some lovely characters. Not the least of which is Agnes Towler and her brother George. Both are memorable. Unfortunately, Davies ruins Agnes by freefalling her into an unhealthy dalliance, and the possibility of a second one. To her credit, so far I am proud she remains a “nice” person, and George does get a cute minor thread in the final three installments. In a story full of scoundrels and people just teetering on the edge of becoming one, anyone with a moral compass desperately needs someone or one couple to root for. As the screen blacks out the first series of angst, there is a tumble of thoughts to think through.

This isn’t a show in which the good outweighs the bad and yet, I liked it. As my mother and I watched, both of us agreed it was good although not the best of its kind. I was disgusted further by Selfridge’s affairs for two reasons. His indiscretions are subtly suggested to be a “disease.” Secondly, he's a walking contradiction. Because he is a “good” guy otherwise – he’s a cheerful person hard not to like in one life, in another he's unnecessarily callous towards his wife. If there is one thing to be grateful for, nothing is glorified; the consequences of wrong behavior are glaringly evident – maybe not materialistically, but emotionally and personally the costs are astronomical.  

Wrapping up in the fashion it should with uncertainty as the character’s reap the consequences of their own making, I’ll be sticking by the show. It has potential, and is gorgeous to look at. Inside, the walls are opulent and brimming with pretty things; the evening gowns are exquisite as are the surroundings in which tuxedo clad gentleman and ladies are inserted in. There are nice scenes between Harry and his children, and his eldest daughter gets a few precious moments. There are also lots of fun references when we see famed historical names paying visits to Selfridge’s (Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle!), and I was abnormally proud of someone for not falling into the arms of another just because she’d been hurt. If you are looking for something that is nearly verbatim to this albeit on a much smaller scale, The Paradise is the better place to enjoy some window shopping.  

CONTENT: there are three extra marital affairs – we see the couple’s in bed together, in various states of undress and plenty of passionate kissing [one couple is seen in the bathtub] and another woman is glimpsed in a mirror half undressed. At least two love scenes with movement and “afterwards” are filmed involving a society woman and a lover. Another girl sleeps with a man in love with someone else [he asks her if she’s “sure” and we see her leaving while he’s still in bed, shirtless]. In lust with a woman, someone in effect stalks her by cozying up to her daughter – she considers having an affair. One suicide attempt is dealt with [pills clutter the floor], one actually transpires [conversation only] and another man recklessly drives his car off the road leading to serious injuries. Drinking, gambling and a one-night stand are also present; blackmail and threats are made, both socially and in business. Flashbacks and conversation informs us what sort of father Harry had leading us to realize he was a philanderer.
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  1. I didn't like this at all. Too much immorality without any kind of decent payback (or anyone to really root for). I won't be watching season two.

  2. hahah charity--- and yet you watched all three game of thrones.

    i'm surprised you can stomach that one. i enjoy it, but it is ALL levels of immoral. this seems tame compared to that...

    1. I spend a lot of time fast-forwarding GoT, but at least it's intellectually interesting with great characters. If it wasn't as mentally stimulating, I wouldn't keep watching it.

      Selfrige isn't intellectual at all and doesn't have memorable characters. It's boring. I can put up with crap so long as it's in a decent plot and/or mentally interesting -- if it's just smut on top of nothingness, I despise it.

      As a movie reviewer, I divide my viewing standards into two categories: adult, and family-friendly. Mr. Selfrige isn't adult, but it also isn't family-friendly. I like my historical BBC costume dramas to have likable protaganists, decent characters, and be family-appropriate.

    2. how do you keep up with the storylines?

    3. Charity - I hear ya. What made it worse was that the dude was "likable." I mean it wasn't like he was a physical abuser or he made his kids miserable plus he was good to his employees. That and the rare (sweet) moments between he and Rose made me tenfold disappointed by all his affairs. But then as Ruth points out below - that was what he was known for...?

      Nothing to be proud of.

      I'll watch series two. Just because I liked it "well enough" plus I am a sucker for costume dramas.

      Rachel - never was interested in Game of Thrones myself which is a good thing since I'd tend to side with you. :)

    4. I might have liked the lead better if he wasn't such a bad actor -- his over-the-top "Americanisms" grated on my poor nerves. =/

    5. Just jumping in.... I couldn't warm to Jeremy Piven either. Maybe unfair, but his crooked smile kept getting on my nerves.

    6. Charity - LOL! I liked him fine. He kind of grew on me in Chasing Liberty so... the transition to this role worked. Writers wanted to illustrate a difference between the British aristocracy and well... the annoying American. ;)

      birdienl - I do get what you girls are saying. His playing the role was okay though; his acting wasn't what ruined the series. Wish it were that simple. *sigh*

    7. Oh yes, Chasing Liberty, I completely forgot he was in there as well. I liked him there, his 'style' fitted in that movie, better than in Mr. Selfridge

    8. That movie was really fun, birdienl! Now we are chatting about it, I should re-watch it - the secondary plot of his character and the female agent chasing around the president's daughter was full of fun. :)

  3. Overall, I liked Mr. Selfridge, but I had mixed feelings about it. Like you said about Harry, I had to admire the business side of him (how he cares for his employees and how he thinks things through for his business), but he was so hurtful to his wife.

    And then there's the loose morals throughout the entire series. That whole part made me wonder, "Would this have really passed in Edwardian England?" As far as that was concerned, it was as if they were trying to make a modern day soap opera playing dress up in Edwardian clothes.

    Yet despite the negatives, I'll be sticking with this show as well. It is interesting and I found myself getting into the plotlines. The costuming was really great also. Plus with that cliffhanger at the end, I'll have to watch Series 2.

    1. I've read a bit of the Selfridge bio on which this was based, and he was known for his many affairs, it seems.

    2. Elizabeth - you summed the series up well. I'd agree. In one part of Selfridge's life, he was admirable and a "good" man. Then he came home and was even "good" to his children (he didn't abuse them or make them miserable) but yes, the way he treated his wife was unforgiveable. Made me disgusted furthermore since he was a jovial sort of fellow - at least when a villain engages in this behavior, there is no need to be torn. He's just evil.

      Sadly, I think yes there was a "turning point" in the Edwardian era in which people gave up doing what's moral and right, and gave in to loose morals. It doesn't make it right but it happened.

      Me too! I'll watch series two and hope that writers change some things - gotta' know what comes next, right!? ;)

      Ruth - knowing that doesn't make it any easier to accept but I do "get" why writers went that route then. Thanks for sharing your findings!

      Did you like the series, Ruth? Haven't seen any reviews. :)

    3. Oh I wasn't trying to make excuses for any behavior in the series or anything like that. But I did find it interesting just how flamboyant, extravagant, and "out there" Selfridge was in the series seems to be at least a semi-accurate reflection of the man himself.

      I enjoyed the series well enough -- particularly the retail history aspect of it. I just have not had the time to write up television episodes or movie reviews these last few months. *sigh*

    4. Oh no, my apologies, Ruth - I didn't think you were (didn't mean to imply that), I was just commenting that given the historical accuracy of Selfridge's behavior, it's easier to "get" why writers "made" him that way. ;P

      Glad you enjoyed it - I remembered you were excited about it way back when so I was curious! Review or not, it's lovely to get your feedback. I think I liked The Paradise best overall (it really surprises here and there!) but don't regret seeing this one. If you ever have the time for a write-up (know the feeling of running out of time), I'm so there. :)

  4. Replies
    1. Well then, you must give this a try, Juju; he plays a likable guy for one part of his character. Guess that counts, right!? ;)

  5. I've been curious about this one! I had heard that it had all the immoral stuff in it and wasn't sure about what to think. I may try it someday. We'll see. Got to finish Call the Midwife first! ;D

    1. Yeah... that is the crux of the dilemma. It's sad really since Harry is a "good" guy at work. *sigh* Guess that is historically who he is as a character so there we find the problem.

      Yippee! Sure hope you are enjoying 'Midwife,' Kara. :)

  6. I've been trying to decide whether to watch this one. I think you convinced me I don't need to hurry to watch it...but I'll probably catch it someday!

    1. Must confess I did like it, Melissa. I suppose it was just my love of costume dramas in general but... there are times (or most of his screen time really) when Selfridge is uncommonly decent and really, a good guy. Too bad that doesn't work more in his favor in the relationship with the wife he claimed to "love."

      I'd enjoy getting your opinion if/when you ever saw it Melissa. :)

  7. I quite liked this, though as you, I wasn't so enamored by it as by The Paradise. Agnes is my favourite character and though I was dissapointed in her choice of how to pursue her relationship (I didn't think it befitted her character at all!), I remain interested in how she will develop in a second series. I also really liked all the tie-ins to historical events happening with all the famous people coming into the store.

    1. Me too, birdienl! It was interesting and despite his philandering I *liked* Harry when he was in his element - at work.

      Agnes was a sweetie - just wish writers hadn't "tarnished" her by putting her with Henri and then have him leave. *sigh* Ah, well! Hoping she'll have better judgment in S2. Seeing various historical people walk through Selfridge's was fun - that alone made the series entertaining. I mean, come on! Who could resist seeing Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle?! ;)

  8. I really, really liked this series! I definitely didn't like Jeremy in this role but as Ruth said, he supposedly was a very flamboyant person. Personally, my favorite characters were Agnes and Henri for obvious reasons -- I'm SUCH a romantic. ;-)

    Renee C

    1. Me, too, Renee! It's one I am certainly going to keep up with whether it airs for multiple seasons or only two. I think knowing that this character was "flamboyant" makes Jeremy's portrayal good; I totally understand your dislike though - when we don't like an actor, it makes it really hard to accept the character.

      Agnes was a doll. I loved her innocence. Sadly, I don't believe Henri will be back in S2. *sniff* Makes me wonder who will romance Agnes now? Like you, I enjoyed that bit of romance since, yep, I am also a HUGE fan of the cute romantics. :)

    2. Jumping in, Rissi, where have you heard Henri will not be back for series 2? That will be such a pity!

    3. It was online, birdienl on various entertainment sites. Now however it sounds like his character is planning to return, so... perhaps he won't be in all of the installments? Don't know! Either way, it'll be fun to catch-up - guess it's going to be set four years after the first season. :)

    4. Four years after the first season? Yuk, that's such a Downton thing to do.... You'd think that a nice person like Agnes would have found another man to court her or even be married four years after the last series!

    5. That is a 'Downton' copycat. Guess writer's are trying that since it'll open new doors to some different historical issues. Or that'd be my guess. Either way, I'll enjoy catching up.

      Perhaps Agnes will be in a serious relationship - it's too much to hope she's found a good man to marry. Series like to tease us with "what could be" rather than marry off favorite characters.

    6. You're right, in a series she probably still will be single, though in reality in the time in which she lived it would be plausible she'd married.

    7. Yes! I find it ironic how often series leave female characters single when most of them probably married in these eras. Since I've gotten "over" the big death on 'Downton,' I find it more plausible that Mary would re-marry - at some point.


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