Selfridge, the man, was the original inspiration for Zola’s work that became the recently aired The Paradise. Of course Zola transported the events to Paris (which the series transposed back to London). But Mr Selfridge, the show, is more focused on the man himself and the changes he wrought rather than the romance, though there is certainly some of that.
Mr Selfridge is, honestly, more of what I had expected to see in The Paradise: the change in business and the struggle of culture as those changes took place. It is actually a rather interesting mirror for today’s mobile shopping shift, especially in the early episodes.
There is definitely a great deal of romance and plot throughout the 10 episodes. But each of the points and issues ties back into the store in a less arch ways than the earlier Paradise managed. Of course, the story-line is a bit contrived, but there are enough intriguing facets to keep it from getting too treacly.
Piven manages the bravado and the fragility of a man driven to succeed and yet still unused to the way people throw themselves at him, particularly women. Perhaps I’m being an apologist for the character, but he just strikes me as the kid that always got turned down for dates and then became suddenly popular … sadly in his case that was after he was married and had kids. He clearly cares for his wife and family, which makes his failures all the more poignant. As his wife, O’Connor constructs the supportive spouse of the late 1800s who is both tied by tradition and yet progressive and edging to join the Suffrage movement. Over the next year, she will be appearing in many US releases, but has been relatively unknown this side of the pond to date.
Building the world around the Selfridge home, Kelly (Coronation Street) and Fitoussi (Spiral, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra) build the outside levers for Piven’s role. There are a host of other recognizable faces as well, each as competent and with fully realized characters to help populate and enrich the world.
There will be a season 2, so feel free to commit. I’ll be curious to see if they can sustain the world without devolving into pure soap opera (they teeter a few times through the 10 episodes). But for now they’ve got me curious enough to see what other historical figures and events they’ll pull into the mix.