Following in the footsteps of BBC’s The Paradise, ITV introduces its own take on the real 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.
Mr. Selfridge, Series One (2013) BBC TV Review
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 begins, 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.
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 gives up her artistic dreams to raise her family. Her eldest daughter Rosalie (Poppy Lee Friar) 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) brings anything to our screen. Fortunately, his latest puts 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’re 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.
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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’m proud she remains a “nice” person, and George gets a cute minor thread in the final 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 watch, both of us agree it’s good although not the best of its kind. I’m disgusted further by Selfridge’s affairs for two reasons. His indiscretions subtly suggest a “disease.” Secondly, he’s a walking contradiction. Because he’s 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 stick 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 is 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’m abnormally proud of someone for not falling into the arms of another. If you’re looking for something that’s nearly verbatim to this albeit on a much smaller scale, The Paradise is the better place to enjoy 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. We see at least two love scenes with movement and “afterwards” 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; there’s blackmail and threats, both socially and in business. Flashbacks and conversation informs us what sort of father Harry had leading us to realize he was a philanderer.