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Mr Selfridge(TV) (2013)
Pioneering and reckless, with an almost manic energy, Harry Selfridge created a theater of retail for early 1900s Londoners where any topic or trend that was new, exciting, entertaining – or sometimes just eccentric – was showcased. Based on the book “Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge” by author Lindy Woodhead.
For more about Mr Selfridge and the Mr Selfridge Blu-ray release, see the Mr Selfridge Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on April 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jeremy Piven, Frances O'Connor, Zoe Tapper
» See full cast & crew
Mr Selfridge Blu-ray Review
Downton Abbey with sales tax.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, April 22, 2013
After the rampaging worldwide success of "Downton Abbey," it was inevitable that a knockoff would emerge, cut from the same elegant cloth. With "Mr. Selfridge," a game of rumor, disaster, and manners returns to the small screen, though it's miles away from countryside opulence and aristocratic concerns, turning to the inner workings of a department store to embark on a multi-character odyssey of melodrama. It's tart, expansive material, yet the endeavor is weighed down by a significant case of déjà vu. Hoping to satisfy ravenous "Downton" fans between seasons, "Mr. Selfridge" comes across as a soggy carbon copy, laboring to cook up the same regality and ridiculousness that defined the smash Julian Fellowes show, only here the results are uneven, uninteresting, and anchored by an actor who's physically and psychologically uncomfortable in the leading role.
Adapted from the Lindy Woodhead book, "Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge," the more reasonably titled series inspects the life and times of Harry Gordon Selfridge (played by Jeremy Piven), a successful businessman who elected to take his American sense of hucksterism to London, opening Selfridge's, a department store aiming to sell European elegance for Chicago prices. A gambling addict, womanizer, and ruthless competitor, Selfridge was a complex character folded into the shape of a beaming showman, masking his inner demons to help bring snap to his daily managerial rounds, searching for any possible way to entice customers into the store.
While an enticing character, "Mr. Selfridge" can't possibly build ten episodes on one man alone, proceeding to feel out the community of employees, financiers, lovers, losers, families, and enemies to provide fodder for the program, cooking up all sorts of strained adversity to keep the show alert. Unfortunately, the production misjudges the lasting appeal of such distractions, and every subplot that takes the action beyond Selfridge's property lines is rendered sunless in the tall shadow of "Downton," with the two productions almost identical in their desire to accentuate historical events with soap opera antics. In the end, "Downton" found an ideal balance to encourage further viewing. "Mr. Selfridge" is merely pads its thin premise with tedious, insignificant conflicts between colorless characters.
The ensemble is skilled with the leaden material, making individual moments of turmoil count with a moderate degree of emotion and stiff-upper-lip poise. The weak link here is Piven, who's out of his league as a ringmaster of retail, bursting a few blood vessels as he struggles to capture Selfridge's overbearing personality as it swings from faux store floor euphoria to rippling depression when his guilt comes a-callin'. It's not a convincing performance, requiring a more subtle turn of mood and an abyssal plunge of shame. Piven's all indication and bellow, working outside his comfort zone to embody a sophisticated personality capable of promotion and self-destruction, often in the same breath. It's a failure the series never quite recovers from.
"Episode 1" (65:11)
The year is 1908, and Michigan native Harry Selfridge has relocated to London to make a go at reinventing the stuffy department store industry, challenging the status quo with his radical ideas on the comfort of the shopping experience. Bringing his family overseas, including trusting wife Rose (Frances O'Connor), Harry weathers financial and publicity trials before making his store a reality. Easing the outside judgment is stage star Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), who brings sex appeal to the company, while socialite Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly) helps the business with critical financial details. Also in the mix is Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), a poor woman who finds herself with a prominent job at Selfridge's after impressing the owner with her bravery.
"Episode 2" (47:33)
On the hunt for irresistible publicity that could stimulate sales, Harry turns to a French flying ace to lend him his history-making plane for display. Rose decides to take in the city on her own, finding flirtation with local artist Roddy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), while Lady Mae warns the overwhelmed spouse that Harry might have eyes for the store spirit, Ellen. Agnes is hopeful chief of staff Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) might be able to find work for her dim-witted brother George (Calum Callaghan), who quickly falls into a loading dock scheme to steal merchandise. Restaurant server Victor (Trystan Gravelle) learns the true demand of his vocation when he's expected to perform sexually for an affluent customer, while putting pressure on Agnes with his romantic intentions. And Agnes and George are troubled when Reg (Nick Towler), their alcoholic father, finds his children hiding in London, begging for forgiveness yet exhibiting familiar signs of abuse.
"Episode 3" (47:25)
Engaging in an affair with Ellen, Harry soon grows tired of his mistress, leaving the fragile performer to seek reassurance from chemical abuse as she processes her abandonment. Cosmetics become a top priority for the store, pushed to full displays in a move that's intended to stimulate sales, and a budget perfume line is invented to appeal to the common woman. Agnes falls into deeper trouble with father Reg, forcing her to manage with a black eye away from her duties at Selfridge's. And Lady Mae grows fond of Rose, urging her to take a closer look at the Selfridge marriage, while assisting their daughter Rosalie's (Poppy Lee Friar) entrance into London society.
"Episode 4" (47:01)
When a new designer dares to take Selfridge's into a new era of fashion, the staff shows resistance to such bold changes, while Harry secures the presence of a beloved ballerina for a photo-op, thrilling his circle of friends and family with a shot of star power. Rose escalates flirtations with her artist friend, soon developing cold feet when her identity is about to be revealed. And Ellen carries herself to a meltdown as Harry's cold shoulder treatment forces her to take drastic action to retrieve his attention.
"Episode 5" (48:19)
After Agnes resigns from Selfridge's due to her father's destructive behavior, Harry dashes off to convince his star employee to return to duty. Also happy to see Agnes is window designer Henri (Gregory Fitoussi), who has his eyes for the shy woman, while Victor, another suitor, feels the distance, turning to Lady Mae for comfort. And Harry and Rose are forced to confront their adulterous deeds and desires as Ellen reveals the truth about her time with the department store maestro, leading to disaster when Harry crashes his car, slipping into a coma.
"Episode 6" (45:18)
With Harry unconscious and Ellen recovering from a suicide attempt, the world of Selfridge's is spinning out of control, requiring the staff to step up and protect the brand name. When a suffragette march threatens the safety of the property, accountant Crabb (Ron Cook) concocts an unusual plan of defense. And young Gordon Selfridge (Adam Wilson) takes an unauthorized tour of the store, fearful of his crushing managerial responsibilities if Harry were to die from his injuries.
"Episode 7" (47:29)
Wrangling a book signing from Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry agrees to a séance inside Selfridge's after hours, which promptly spooks the employees, including Mr. Grove, who's having difficulty mourning his late wife. As Agnes switches departments and ups her responsibilities, Kitty (Amy Beth Hayes) is presented with the professional opportunity she's been looking for, also intrigued with the identity of a secret admirer who sends her candies and love notes. And Lady Mae comes to the rescue when Harry has trouble dealing with bank authorities, hoping to articulate the stability of store as a way of securing future expansion.
"Episode 8" (47:34)
Frank Winfield Woolworth (Michael Brandon), both a friend and rival of Harry's, arrives in London to encroach on Selfridge's market share, offering low prices for the frugal shopper. Attempting to outplay his competition, Harry demands a sale to end all sales, a test that rattles a staff accustomed to respectable patrons. Rose realizes that Roddy's passions cannot be halted, watching the artist infiltrate her own home, showing interest in Rosalie. And Kitty and Doris (Lauren Crace) face decision time as a crucial promotion is dangled in front of them, testing their friendship.
"Episode 9" (45:54)
Harry welcomes Sir Ernest Shackleton (Mark Dexter) to the store, charming young Gordon. Mr. Grove and Doris share a moment of grief when a former employee turns up dead, triggering chemistry between the pair. Roddy continues his quest to disturb Rose's domestic peace. Henri is faced with choice when a job offer from old girlfriend Valerie (Josephine de la Baume) could take him to New York City. And Harry's journalist pal Frank (Samuel West) comes begging for a position at Selfridge's after losing his job.
"Episode 10" (46:31)
As Agnes finds herself available again, she renews her friendship with Victor, who's about to achieve his dream of restaurant ownership thanks to help from Lady Mae. Expecting a visit from King Edward VII (David Calder), Selfridge's prepares for a royal visit in detail, while Harry feels quite a sting when Frank and Ellen conspire to destroy him on the London stage. And Rose, growing uncomfortable with the Roddy situation and homesick for Chicago, tries to convince harry to return to America.
Mr Selfridge Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation generally sustains the buoyant, hazy cinematography of the series, working with cinematography that favors luxurious fabrics and period decoration. Fine detail is satisfactory for this softly shot production, capturing the nuance of costuming and the textures of skin, while domestic and store-based set design pop with ease, making a survey of rooms easy and, at times, critical to the enjoyment of the show (spying just what Selfridge is determined to sell). Colors are stable and communicative, with hues making quite an impression with clothes, while warm lighting and colored glass create a time capsule feel to the program, with vivid reds and greens. Shadow detail is acceptable, managing to preserve formalwear and hairstyles, offering deep blacks with only a few instances of solidification. Some banding and ghosting are detected, but only appear fleetingly.
Mr Selfridge Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix doesn't seem to fulfill the show's sonic possibilities. Instead of a swirling feel of distant store bustle with satisfying directional activity working the surrounds, there's only a front stage presence to consider. It's a rich track despite its limitations, securing dialogue exchanges with a distinct fullness that isolates emotional subtleties and Selfridge's showmanship. The jubilant scoring is also pronounced without tangling the human element, showing comfortable support with appealing instrumentation, while triggering some welcome low-end on occasion. Atmospherics are acceptable without being remarkable, noticeable in the mix to secure a period feel of city life and commerce at play.
Mr Selfridge Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Mr Selfridge Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Mr. Selfridge" is teeming with events and misdeeds, but there's not enough prime material to fuel ten episodes. The critical plotlines only require half that time to explore in full, and there's not enough inter-store strife to keep the production afloat, losing the essence of the premise as it surveys the domestic wreckage of affairs and assorted human flaws. Spending an extended amount of time with such tepid, misguided dramatics requires a great deal of patience from the viewer. Especially "Downton" fanatics who've become accustomed to period ornamentation, sprawling storytelling, and shameless manipulation carried out with sense of refinement. "Mr. Selfridge" can't claim the same sudsy elegance.
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