Whilst the second episode of ITV’s sumptuous new historical costume drama doesn’t hit any particular lows, there are still no incredible highs to report. Exquisite period detail, decent direction and an oddly appropriate soundtrack offset a lack of actual substance and any real surprises.
Mr Selfridge‘s plot continues with a lacklustre public showing to the store after opening day, and Mr Selfridge starts producing ‘hare-brained’ schemes to rake the customers in, seeking to rope in the first plane to cross the channel, much to the chagrin of Henri, as he tries to adjust his style. That he wants to include Ellen in the event creates the first cracks of a rift in his marriage to Rose, his obsession with the showgirl starting to take its toll. Agnes manages to get her brother a job in the warehouse department, but his naïveté threatens to have him ingratiated into some illicit dealings.
The main intrigue of the story continues to be the clash of cultures – both international and social – as the almost anachronistically modern agenda of Selfridge clashes with the in-reform British class structure of the early 20th century. Jeremy Piven’s performance is perhaps a bit too showy in places – derailing a couple of scenes early on in the episode – but it feels intentional, with the ostensibly stuffy British support cast making a good show of not knowing quite what to make of him.
Whilst the sets and locations occasionally have an almost Doctor Who-vian feel to them – an almost surreal air to the exterior shots of the store seems to be stemmed from a directorial desire to make it painterly – the period detail is second to none. The costume department and production designers deserve special credit for their astonishing attention ton detail, from hair and make-up all the way through to props.
But whilst it’s all interesting from a historical perspective, it is still only threatening to hit its stride in terms of narrative, with the ‘Next time…’ montage being frustratingly promising. The turning of the some plot cogs are almost perfunctory – despite being well played by the cast, the story so far is quite cynically laying the groundwork for multiple fan/excrement interactions down the line.
Mr Selfridge is not a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hardly hitting the heights of ITV’s other successful period drama – unable to replicate the fascinating melodrama that happens in every episode of that behemoth, what is present is spread just a little too thin.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 13 January 2013 on ITV.
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