Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Mr. Selfridge -- Series 1 (2013)

With Downton's series ended on Masterpiece and another year before Series 4 airs in the U.S., Masterpiece has to show something on Masterpiece Classic between now and then, don't they? Enter Mr. Selfridge, the story of the person who founded London's first department store. I had never heard of the store Selfridge and Co. (commonly referred to as Selfridge's), but it is a store that was opened in the Edwardian era and is still in business today. Since one of my majors is in Accounting, I naturally have an interest in business, so this was something that seemed interesting.
Box Art

Based on the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of London's first department store who revolutionized the way stores sell merchandise, in Mr. Selfridge, Harry arrives in London and, unimpressed with the way stores sold merchandise, starts up his own store in an unfashionable side of town.

Most of the faces in Mr. Selfridge are new faces, but there are also a couple of familiar faces. The series stars Jeremy Piven (who I think is well known in Hollywood?) as Harry Gordon Selfridge. Here are some familiar period drama faces in Mr. Selfridge.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Ron CookMr. CrabbLittle Dorrit (2008) as Mr. Chivery
Frances O'ConnorRose SelfridgeThe Importance of Being Earnest as Gwendolen Fairfax
Freya WilsonViolette SelfridgeThe King's Speech as Princess Elizabeth

And as a couple of interesting trivia bits: Zoƫ Tapper, who plays Ellen Love, is also the wife of period drama actor Oliver Dimesdale; and Kika Markham, who plays Lois Selfridge, was the wife of Corin Redgrave (who played Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion (1995)) before his death.

Mr Selfridge (center) with Mr. Grove, the head of staff, on his
left and Mr. Crabb, his accountant, on his right.
The character of Harry Selfridge has to grow on you a little and you might not take to him immediately. My mom thought that he was too off the wall in the beginning, but I thought that they were trying to portray him as charismatic (though a bit high energized charismatic). He does calm down a little more later in the series to where he isn't so off the wall. Overall, I had mixed feelings about his character. The good: the business aspect. The business part of his character I thought was interesting (though that could be because one of my majors is a business major). I like how he explains why he does things a certain way in his store (like putting scarves over the edge of the counter so people could be invited to feel them and want to buy them); it's a lot of techniques that you might be able to recognize today in stores. The bad: his very messy personal life. While he does love his wife, Rose, he has a wandering eye that wanders to the actress, Ellen Love, which leads him to be unfaithful to Rose. His character around Ellen Love or when he gets in trouble with Rose proves to be self-destructive. But as he personality gets toned down, he becomes less self-destructive. However, when something bad happens, he does tend to make some very bad decisions.
Rose Selfridge

Rose is a fairly sympathetic character, though not necessarily entirely innocent. She does care for and love Harry very much, but because he is unfaithful to her (which has also happened in the past), she does seek out the attention of artist Roderick "Roddy" Temple. While nothing comes of it, it does strain Harry's and Rose's relationship with each other and the acquaintance does prove to be a burden when Roddy seeks the attention of Rose and Harry's eldest daughter, Rosalie, in order to see Rose (and even blackmail her). Of the two, I would say that Rose is probably more sympathetic than Harry since Harry's actions tend to be more damaging than her's.

Both Harry and Rose are friendly with Lady Mae Loxley (often called Lady Mae, but technically supposed to be called Lady Loxley), a socialite whose husband is a backer for Selfridge's. A former show girl, Lady Mae is often responsible for getting business for Selfridge's and for helping Rosalie Selfridge into society. She is also a big supporter of the suffragettes and even holds meetings at the restaurant in Selfridge's (though with Harry's approval, of course). While I do like a lot of Lady Mae's clothes and style, she is not a character that you would want to emulate: she is a notorious flirt who goes from one relationship to the next at her whim. She also doesn't help people for the right reasons: she helps people not out of the goodness of her heart, but rather so someone owes her and then she can use them for her own purposes. Is she a good character? No. Is she a bad character? Not quite sure about that. She is definitely a powerful character, but I think she is more concerned about herself and is always looking out for her self interests.

Ellen Love
Then there's Ellen Love, the actress that steals Harry's heart for a little while. At first, I didn't mind Ellen too much: she was bubbly and upbeat, but her only main purpose at Selfridge's was that she was there as a pretty face to get people into the store. But once Harry became more involved with her, she became very annoying quickly. Spoiler And then once Harry broke it off from her, her personality completely shifted to a very sad one and suddenly, he story was of a broken down actress who goes further into a life of drugs. Luckily for her, she turns her life around and becomes more of a serious actress. End of Spoiler

From left to right: Agnes Towler, Kitty Hawkins, and
Doris Miller
Mr. Selfridge also explores plot lines that have to do with the staff that is hired to run the stores. The main plot of the "staff plots" has to do with Agnes Towler, a salesgirl that Harry takes under his wing since he sees that she has potential in the business. At first, I liked Agnes: she was trying to get her life together with her brother, George, after fleeing their abusive father and she seemed to be doing well at Selfridge's; I was rooting for her to succeed. But after she became involved as she did with Harry's friend, Henri, I kind of lost some respect for her. And of course, then there are lesser characters in the stores. There is Kitty, a snippy salesgirl who is always trying to get ahead in the accessories department of Selfridge's Spoiler (this is also a beginning of a love story between her and George Towler that I thought needed more face time) End of Spoiler and Doris who is kind of her "side kick", but is a little more friendlier. There is even a sub plot involving the firing of Miss Bunting for stealing and what becomes of her life after leaving Selfridge's.

A shot of the interior of Selfridge's along with members of the
cast. From left to right:  Henri LeClair, Agnes Towler, Lady Mae,
Harry Selfridge, Ellen Love, Rose Selfridge, and Frank Edwards
The story starts in 1908 when Selfridge's is being built and sometime before King Edward VII's death in 1910. Some current events are talked about in the course of the first series, such as the suffragettes.

From what I understand, the interior for Selfridge's is a set, but it's a very well done set. I wouldn't have expected it to be a set because it looks so real... like it was the actual store. There are multiple parts of the store that are shown in this series: the main part where the shopping is done, the offices, the restaurant  and the loading area to name the main ones. We also get to see a good deal of the home of the Selfridges (which is a very nice home) and the home of Agnes Towler and her brother George (which is poor, but livable).

The costuming is great (though someone said that it was better than Downton Abbey: I disagree). The salesgirls wear black dresses with a white accent while they are on the clock (almost like a uniform, but not a specific uniform). There is a bit of the dress reform movement mentioned when Miss Ravillus (Miss Bunting's replacement) is hired, so there is a bit of that in there as well. The best dressed one in the show is clearly Lady Mae (though Rose Selfridge has some nice dresses as well); the only problem I have with Lady Mae's outfit is her hat/hair: seriously, it looked like her hat was floating unnaturally on top of her hair and not something associated with the Edwardian Era.

Overall: 3.5/5
It does take some time to get used to the characters and it may be tempting to stop watching in the first couple of episodes, but it does get better as the series goes on. I'm not sure how accurate the entire series is and none of the characters are good role models (and exhibit behaviors that would have been scandalous at the time), but it's still enjoyable and I'm not sorry that I watched the series. Do I think that it deserved a second series (which is in the making)? No, not really: it wasn't that good of a series. Will I watch the second series? Probably (since this series ended on a cliffhanger), but I'll probably be surprised if a third series is made (unless the show greatly improves in the second series).

Because of some scenes (which were unnecessary), I probably would say that the content of Mr. Selfridge is TV-14 (which you might be able to expect from Andrew Davies, who wrote the series). Hardly an episode goes by without at least one more mature scene in the episode. That and along with some innuendo, a few characters being unfaithful to their spouses, and some mild drug use earns a TV-14 rating from me. I would say that if you took out the unnecessary scenes that the show could be TV-PG.

Mr. Selfridge is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray. It is made up of ten episodes that are roughly 50 minutes long.

Old-Fashioned Charm
This review is apart of the Period Drama Challenge. Come join the fun!


  1. Just started this one. It's really entertaining - love the more humorous side of it whereas The Paradise focuses more on the "prettiness" and the elegance of the era. In that way, it's a nice change from its peers or the "heavier" period dramas.

    1. I want to watch The Paradise too. I just found it on YouTube and watched a little of it. I can tell it's similar to Mr. Selfridge.

  2. I just finished this one today, and I will say that I enjoyed it. The final episode was pretty disappointing to me, though...just after Harry and Rose seemed to be doing fairly well, their relationship took yet another turn for the worse (which I think was both of their faults, but in the end, I was most upset with Rose). Agnes' character also disappointed me...but that had been going on for several episodes with that thing with her and Henri. I would have understood it a bit better if she actually was in love with him, but she made it clear in the end that she wasn't really, and that she knew he was not in love with her. Blah. Also, I didn't like Victor, so I thought made she and Henri would be good together.

    I am somewhat looking forward to the next series, only because they left so many loose ends after this one.

    Decked Out in Ruffles

    1. I don't know: I thought Agnes loved Henri but said that she didn't love him to Miss Ravillous so she wouldn't lose her job. I also thought she and Henri were a better couple. I didn't like Victor either: there was something too smug about him...

      I'm looking forward to the next series because of all the loose ends too. I think if they finished it off nicer, there wouldn't have been a second series.

  3. I agree with your rating and your evaluation.

    I have watched the series and though I enjoyed it, it was a bit mature with the drug use, adultery and whatnot.

    I'll watch series two but like you, I don't see it going much beyond a second season.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. What Jennifer said:
      After Downton ended for the season I saw the preview for Selfridge. Since it looked to me to be more of a "men's business" type of show I missed the first episode. Then I caught a glimpse of the costumes and the references to my absolute favorite period of history and I was hooked. My husband called Harry Selfridge "a total a------" and I sort of agree on that account. I was a bit surprised at some of the "loose morals" in relation to the time period. It takes all kinds I suppose.............

    2. That was one of the things that irked me about Mr. Selfridge: the "loose morals" (didn't know how to put it, but you put it very well). I looked at what the characters were doing and could not believe that that behavior would have passed during that time period nor that it would have been so wide spread.


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