Fancy window displays, cosmetics counters, merchandise you can touch, and other marketing breakthroughs had to start somewhere, and they sprang from the genius of Chicago native Selfridge, who combined guile, taste, boldness, the poise of a swindler, and the seductive Photo credit: ITV Studios for MASTERPIECE. charm of a Casanova – qualities that spelled success but also trouble.
The cast includes Zoe Tapper (“Stage Beauty”) as Ellen Love, showgirl, temptress, and the sexy “face of Selfridge’s;” Frances O’Connor (“Madame Bovary”) as Rose, Harry’s loyal but independent wife; Grégory Fitoussi (“Spiral”) as the mercurial Henri LeClair, window designer extraordinaire; and Aisling Loftus (“Case Histories”) as spunky shop girl Agnes Towler, who gets the lucky break of her life thanks to a chance encounter with Harry.
Also appearing are Katherine Kelly (“Coronation Street”) as Lady Mae, socialite and siren; Ron Cook (“Little Dorrit”) as Mr. Crabb, Harry’s pathologically nervous chief accountant; Amanda Abbington (“Case Histories”) as Miss Mardle, the lovelorn head of accessories; and Samuel West (“Any Human Heart”) as newspaper editor Frank Edwards, Harry’s go-between in courting English money and mistresses.
“MR. SELFRIDGE” opens with the newly arrived Harry, fresh from success at Marshall Field’s in Chicago, checking the retail climate in London. Marshall Field pioneered the slogan, “The customer is always right.” But Harry finds that a demanding customer in England is likely to get thrown out of the store. Customers are expected to know what they want and, when presented with it, to make their purchase and leave. Furthermore, English ladies get their dresses from dressmakers who make house calls, and beauty products are a hush-hush subject, associated with actresses and prostitutes.
But all of that is about to change. Channeling the consumer culture of the future, Harry invents a shopping experience that is a cross between theater and fantasy fulfillment. When the intrepid Frenchman Louis Blériot makes the first flight across the English Channel, Harry grandly displays the plane and pilot at Selfridges. When the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova becomes the talk of the town, Harry invites the public to meet her at his store.
Whatever the latest sensation, Harry hitches his star to it. Truly, in his personal life, as in his business, he is addicted to the sensational – which creates exciting complications for all concerned.
Jeremy Piven will always be remembered as the iconic Ari Gould. While I remember Ari's razor-sharp expletive-filled tirades from 'Entourage' with enormous fondness, it's hard to picture Piven doing anything else. Whenever I see him playing another character it's difficult for me to distance the character he's playing from the character he once was. So, when Piven dons a turn-of-the-century suit and struts around London as department store magnate Harry Selfridge, it's hard to take him seriously. Plus, I'm not sure how interesting running a department store really is.
I know that some of TV's most-watched shows have come from some pretty mundane ideas. On the surface a show about an ad agency in the '60s sounds quite boring, yet 'Mad Men' has amassed quite a following and earned tons of awards during its run. 'Magic City' is a show about the ins and outs of running a hotel in Miami. Sure a snarling, overacting Danny Huston adds some scenery chomping to the proceedings, but in reality we're watching a show about the finer points of hotel management.
Having watched some shows, which on the surface seemed like dreadfully boring ideas, I decided that I'd give the PBS/ITV Studios' 'Mr. Selfridge' a shot. The results, sadly, were muddled at best.
Harry Selfridge is a driven man. Hailing from America, Selfridge is adamant that he's going to be able to revamp the dreary London shopping district. A draconian place where customers are treated like cattle. Selfridge wants to make shopping not just a chore, but a destination. He wants to create a department store that people will come to from far and wide to sample the unusual and bizarre.
With grand visions and sweeping dreams, Selfridge moves his family to England, and gets to work building his first store. Only his English investor is apprehensive. Selfridge's business practices, which amount to grandiose speeches followed by exclamations about sparing no expense, are worrisome. After his investor pulls out, Selfridge finds himself in a precarious position. Hemorrhaging cash, Selfridge still must put on the face of a confident man. Piven does this with varying success.
Piven seems miscast. Every time Selfridge starts in on one of his speeches, there's a sense that Ari is inside, waiting to escape, but Piven visibly wrangles him back in. There's a sense that he's holding back since this isn't HBO. It's a noticeable, palpable feeling. Want to know what Ari Gould would've been like if he took anger management and it worked? That's Harry Selfridge.
By reigning in his natural tendency toward mania, Piven comes across flat and uninspiring. His lavish speeches hold little weight, because it's difficult to believe he's comfortable in Selfridge's shoes. Without an intriguing central character the entire show begins to crumble around him. None of the side characters have much interest. This isn't like 'Downton Abbey' where if you don't like one or two of the stories there are a half dozen other stories you can latch on to. It feels as if the show was built for and around Piven hoping he'd carry it to the finish line. Although, by restricting what Piven does best, 'Mr. Selfridge' never rises above its mundane roots of building and managing a department store. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a PBS release. 'Mr. Selfridge' is a mini-series that aired on Masterpiece Theater. It's a 3-disc set. There are 10 episodes in the season. The 50GB Blu-rays are packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a swinging hub in the middle to house two discs back to back. The set is marked as being Region A locked.
'Mr. Selfridge' more or less, has the same high-def look that 'Downton Abbey' possesses in seasons one and two. Its 1080p picture is clear and usually picturesque, offering up a good amount of detail, decent contrast, and healthy shadows.
Barring the occasional soft shot here and there, 'Mr. Selfridge' sports a competently detailed transfer. Close-ups feature quite a lot of facial detail. Piven's beard has excellent clarity. The period costumes are greatly enhanced by the HD microscope. Lace, leather, silk, and wool all appear as tangible material. Tiny pinstripes can be seen on suits, while intricate lace patterns on elaborate gowns are easily discernible.
Black areas, for the most part, appear satisfyingly dark. There are a few hazy moments peppered throughout the series. Some occasional banding and noise also exist in the darker gradients from time to time. But they're usually cases of here one second, gone the other. Overall, 'Mr. Selfridge' uses the extra clarity of high definition to its benefit. The video presentation will please any fan that picks it up.
'Mr. Selfridge' has been provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo track. The stereo aspect gives the mix a little room to play with its surroundings, but not much. Instead the show's action is contained to the front two speakers, even though there are plenty of opportunities for a surround sound mix to give the show some much needed ambiance.
With that said, dialogue is always clear. Sound effects and the show's music don't feel overly confined. There's nothing that's really fighting too hard for attention. It all sounds well-mixed. I didn't feel as if any aspect of the show was being drowned out, or overridden by any other aspect. It's a congenial mix of sound, but it doesn't have anything that stands out about it.
'Mr. Selfridge' is missing something. It feels hollow. There's a whole lot going on, but little actual drama to pull the viewer in. It's a lukewarm drama at best. To top it all off, Piven feels out of place here, like his basic instincts are being stifled by the stuffiness of the show. The video presentation looks great and the audio is satisfactory. In the end I'd say that 'Mr. Selfridge' is for fans only.