Last year BBC1 had one of their bigger successes with The Paradise
a costume drama set in a department store in the late 19th century. Though
the series was a ratings winner there was controversy surrounding the decision
to air the episodes before production had finished with most believing that the
BBC wanted to get their period shop drama on air before ITV had a chance to
broadcast theirs. The ITV production is Mr Selfridge which is also set in a
department store, albeit at the turn of the century, and sees American
businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge journey to Britain to attempt to open one of
the world’s most talked-about shops.
Mr Selfridge is the latest production by Andrew Davies,
whose primarily known for his literary adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Bleak
House, who based the story around Lindy Woodhead’s book ‘Shopping, Seduction
and Mr Selfridge.’ As well as Davies’ involvement the big selling point of Mr
Selfridge is the appearance of Jeremy Piven in the lead role of Selfridge which
is his first TV part since playing Ari Gold in Entourage. Piven’s performance
in Mr Selfridge is completely theatrical although in a way it suits the role of
Harry who is as much of a showman as he as entrepreneur. The opening episode of
Mr Selfridge sees Harry struggle to get his idea off the ground especially
after he loses his key investor and struggles for money which is even more of a problem after moving his family over to
England to stay in an extravagant house.
Selfridge quickly strikes up a friendship with newspaper
editor Frank Edwards (Samuel West) who knows all of the most influential
Londoners and is able to introduce him to Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly) who agrees
to find him a new investor though she wants a favour in return. As Selfridge’s
financial advisors worry about the money being spent on the store he sets about
finding something to distinguish it from all of the other shopping emporiums in
the city and strikes on the idea of using showgirl Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper) as
the new face of Selfridges. Obviously the seductive Ellen sees this as her way
out of the seedy world of the underground theatres though the relationship between
her and Selfridge is a dangerous one especially seeing as he married.
Though the central storyline about Selfridge may be a bit
over-the-top for some people’s tastes for me the true heart of the programme is
via the story of shop girl Agnes Tower played by Good Cop’s Aisling Loftus. In
one of the first scenes of Mr Selfridge, Harry inadvertently gets Agnes fired
from her job and so she therefore struggles to provide for herself and her
brother. As the episode goes on she seeks out Selfridge and demands a job in
his store which he gets for her and she ends up on the accessories counter
headed up by the traditional yet lovelorn Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington). Agnes
is good at her job however we discover that her talent may lay elsewhere when
she is able to assist with the first ever window display at Selfridge and Co.
In future episodes Agnes will have more worries though as her alcoholic father
(Nick Moran) returns on the scene demanding his children’s love.
Mr Selfridge does take a while to get used to as everything
about it, from the central performance to the costumes, is overblown and
theatrical however Davies’ script keeps the pace going and the majority of the
characters have at least some sort of likeable attribute. For me it is the
story of Agnes that is the most compelling though I did enjoy Selfridge
blagging his way around London in an attempt to get his store open on time.
Though there are great performances from Piven, Loftus and Kelly the biggest
presence throughout Mr Selfridge is the store itself which is a fully recreated
version of how the original Selfridge and Co actually looked. I personally wasn’t
a fan of The Paradise and I feel that Mr Selfridge is a more accessible and
ultimately more enjoyable watch than the BBC’s product and I would recommend
everybody at least check it out even if you do feel you’re a little bit too
shopped out after Christmas.