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.
"What a great day, peace at last!"
Part of the problem with having an impressively successful show on the BBC like 'Downton Abbey' is that the network becomes obsessed with finding "The Other Downton Abbey." Not that there's anything wrong with that plan, naturally when you've got a hit you want to get another hit on your rosters as soon as possible. As the Crawly family's time leading the BBC's slate of dramas is on the wain, the BBC has been making strides towards finding it's next big high-drama-soap-opera to fill the eventual void. Shows like 'Grantchester,' and 'Call the Midwife' are chomping at the bit to break out but with three seasons already under its high-style belt, 'Mr. Selfridge' aims to win over viewers by offering a similar looking big production period show that takes place in London's historic Oxford Street department store. The only problem with this bargain is that the titular Mr. Selfridge, his family, and his staff are really only selling cheap soap opera drama stories hidden behind fancy packaging.
For those of you who have been keeping up with the show, when we last left the Selfridge clan, everyone was sitting down for a nice Thanksgiving meal while Rose was dealing with her troubled health issues. As season three opens, Harry (Jeremy Piven) and his family are laying Rose to rest. Devastated by the loss, everyone in the family attempts to do what they can to move on. Nine month's later, Harry is preoccupying himself by acquiring more stores and expanding the Selfridge department store empire. At the same time, Young Rosalie (Poppy Lee Friar) has become engaged to an aspiring aviationist Serge Dr Bolotoff (Leon Ockenden) providing a bit of happiness in the family.
Along with Serge, his mother the former Princess Marie (Zoé Wanamaker) has become a permanent fixture in the Selfridge household, however, Harry's mother Lois (Kika Markham) smells a rat. She cant be sure why, but something about these two new additions don't set right with her. Meanwhile Harry's son Gordon (Greg Austin) is working hard to earn a more prominent role in the Selfridge's store, quickly rising up the ranks and taking on more responsibility - as he also happens to be secretly courting the counter girl Grace (Amy Morgan). With all of this flurry of activity happening Violette (Hannah Tointon) starts to act out and rebel against her father's wishes in a desperate attempt for someone to notice she has something to offer beyond shopping.
When Harry could use a jolt of hope in his life, the energetic Nancy Webb (Kelly Adams) comes into his life. Nancy is pleading with Selfridge to not take up his son in law's plan to build an airplane factory on a piece of land she feels would be better suited for war veterans who returned home and are now homeless and could use a helping hand. This venture pulls at Harry's heartstrings in more ways than one - none the least of which is that Nancy's vibrant energy reminds him of his departed wife. Blinded by his heart Harry lets his guard down and opens himself up to potential ruin.
As all of this is happening, things for the staff at Selfridges continues to move along. With the store becoming more and more popular, the need for bigger stunts to draw people away from the competition is needed - much to the worry of the board of directors. With these turbulent waters - Harry's old enemy the disgraced Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdie) is out for blood, willing and ready to do whatever it takes to destroy Harry Selfridge. As Harry makes his plans, Loxley plots his schemes to turn the English public, the Selfridges board of directors and Harry's own family against him. Harry must deal with all of this in order to keep what is most dear to him - his family and the store.
For a show with this much hype, with a fourth season on the way and a legion of loyal fans - I've more or less been in a continued state of semi-disappointment with 'Mr. Selfridge.' Friends and family had recommended this show to my wife and I for quite awhile before we finally took the plunge and started watching it. From the first episode, something just felt off about this show. The performances were only okay, Piven can be very one-note at times, the drama can be pretty convoluted, and in the end - the whole venture can just feel a bit disingenuous at times. But we kept at it, slowly picking our way through seasons one and two. There were some fun moments, but we were hardly devoted fans when we finished that run of episodes.
Going into Season 3, I had a lot of hopes that this one would be an improvement. After working out some kinks, shaken off a little bit of rust, maybe the show would have found some decent dramatic footing? I will say that this season is an improvement over what's come before, but it still suffers from a lot of the same problems that undermines much of the drama throughout the show's ten episodes. Perhaps the biggest issue here is that so much of this season takes place away from the store. Characters that don't really involve the principal Selfridge family get far too much time. Do we really care about Victor (Trystan Gravelle) and his club? Is that something that we really need to worry about? Then we have the drama surrounding Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) and his wife's affair that lead to a child being born that isn't his. This was almost compelling except that it resolves itself entirely too cleanly and then the residual drama surrounding it keeps playing far too long for audiences to feel anything for the characters involved. Perhaps the most telling story gripe is found with Henri Leclair (Grégory Fitoussi) and Agnes Leclair (Aisling Loftus). Henri has just returned from Verdun and has married his true love Agnes - only he's traumatized by what he experienced there. The idea of "shell shock" or in modern terms "PTSD" and the effects it has on soldiers is truly compelling drama - only like it's titular character - this show dodges it entirely. Rather than letting this be part of the season's arc - Henri and Agnes are shuffled off and forgotten about without any notion of being sincere.
Sincerity could well be the primary problem with the show 'Mr. Selfridge' as a whole. It tries to be something bigger than itself and be more than what it is - a high class soap opera. That isn't necessarily a bad thing to be though. Look at 'Downton Abbey' it knows what it is, has fully embraced it and allowed for genuinely compelling stories to come out of it. Like a good salesman 'Mr. Selfridge' seems intent on selling us something we already have. Sure the packaging has changed - but it's still an inferior product because it doesn't do the same things nearly as well. Considering it's place in history as a now post WWI drama, it has a lot of material to skim from - but the show only seems to be interested in scratching the surface rather than delving deeper into anything challenging.
'Mr. Selfridge' seems to be a show that is getting better in small increments rather than great strides. Some shows take time to love, others you fall in love with after one episode. This one continues to be an enigma for me. On one hand I want to keep watching each episode - sometimes struggling to finish it - but at the same time I'm left wishing it had been more fulfilling. Maybe 'Mr. Selfridge' is less a grand department store than it is a better than average outlet mall? I truly hope that the inevitable season 4 puts this show on solid ground. It has so much going for it, I'd hate for all the talent and the incredible amount of work that went into it to go to waste.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mr. Selfridge Season 3' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to PPB. Pressed on three BD50 discs, with the single extra feature located on Disc 3. Each disc opens through the expected studio banners before arriving at the main menu which features the opening credit music playing over quick video clips of from the series.
As should be expected by this point, 'Mr. Selfridge' looks pretty fantastic on Blu-ray with this 1.78:1 1080i image. For such a beautiful show, there is a lot of great detail and color pop on display. Working better in this particular season than the previous ones is the blending of the CGI set expansions. Previously with this incredible detail level - these digital expansions looked very obvious. Now, things are staged a lot better and any seams between the practical sets and the green screen are hidden much better allowing for a heightened sense of reality. This is helpful because much of the show now takes place away from the store set. All around wide shots, midds, and close ups look fantastic here allowing the finer details in the costuming and sets to be appreciated - this is especially true for any set that has a lot of props. With that - compression artifacts like banding are virtually nonexistent with only some ever so slight banding. Black levels over all are very good here, especially since there is a lot of dark colored clothing that rarely is lost to crush issues. There is an occasional floating head here and there, but it's not terrible and easily missed. All around there just ins't much to fault this transfer for. Aside from the slight crush and scant instances of banding, this was almost a perfect transfer.
It doesn't take much effort to fully appreciate the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track each episode sports. For such a busy show with characters moving around all over the store and various sets - imaging gets quite the work out. Especially inside the Selfridge's Department Store set - there are a lot of heavy foot steps and clothing movement that has been included here. Dialogue, the series' music score, and the abundant sound effects are never lost in the near constant flurry of activity. Street scenes are equally impressive as crowd and traffic noises are nicely layered and never overpower the mix. All around a perfectly wonderful track. My one wish is that these ITV series produced for the BBC and PBS would splurge for fuller 5.1 surround tracks. Don't get me wrong the 2.0 stereo tracks are wonderful - but I can't help but wonder how much more immersive an experience a show like 'Mr. Selfridge' would be with full on surround tracks. As it rests now, these stereo tracks are pretty amazing.
Behind The Scenes of Mister Selfridge Season 3: (HD 34:42) There is a lot to see and take in with this behind the scenes feature. For how much they attempt to cover it would have been great if they expanded this into more detailed sections. You could spend hours watching this kind of material.
Slowly but surely 'Mr. Selfridge' is winning me over. I wasn't much of a fan of the first couple seasons, but season 3 works a lot better. My hope is that they cut some of the dead weight characters and make this machine leaner and meaner ahead of season 4. There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in this season, but so much of it is lost in the noise of characters who just don't matter. If you're a stalwart fan of the show, you're going to love the incredible audio and picture quality on these Blu-rays. I may not be the biggest fan of the show, but this set is recommended.