Mr Selfridge, Season 3, Finale – Part One

In the US, we got episodes 9 and 10 together for our finale. So I came to them with great anticipation. We’ve known that Nancy’s a con artist and that Loxley’s scheming to get even with Harry for helping Mae, his ex-wife, though Loxley’s so one dimensional, it annoys me. The less screen time he gets the better. Many viewers have read about Harry’s life in Woodhouse’s Shopping, Selfridge and Mr Selfridge and we know that after Rose died, Harry’s life began to unravel as he became more indulgent and reckless. So far this season we haven’t seen too much of that — yet.

Harry’s got a lot on the line as he’s started a price war to make good on the promise to his board to get them a 10% dividend. Loxley’s circling the waters hoping to bring Harry down. As for romance, Harry’s proposed to Nancy completely unaware that she’s a con artist. Granted she seems to be falling for Harry, but she’s still too cunning for my tastes. How I wish Mamma Selfridge or Princess Marie would go to the Information Bureau and have her looked up! Or Violette. She seems to have her suspicions.

This season isn’t the program’s best. It feels like they’ve gotten new writers to take over and they don’t have a sense of what viewers like me want. The episode begins with Harry showing everyone a warehouse of goods that they must sell so he can keep his board members happy. Everyone rises to the occasion, which does show a devotion to the game of retail and to Harry himself. It reminds me of The Paradise and I would get caught up in the glamor of shopping and sales. There was an art to this business, which is sadly fallen by the wayside.

Loxley, who’s name must be synonymous with unctuous, has a fit when he reads in the paper that Lady Mae, his ex-wife is going to get married. The scene came off as rather over-the-top in terms of emotion. Loxley is meant to be a character your hate, but mainly he’s become a caricature. He then calls a meeting with two board members who for some reason see him as worth listening to. Why? The man’s clearly unscrupulous and was losing money himself until he started profiteering. Harry stops a supplier from overcharging Nancy who’s buying lumber for houses she didn’t plan to build. In the car to the store she admires his bargaining prowess. He’s saved her. Swoon. Then things go pear-shaped as the car approaches the store. Protestors outside pelt Harry and Nancy with eggs. If you don’t like a business practice, boycott the sale. There’s no reason to get nasty. But this barbarism results in Harry deciding he needs a new head of security and since George needs a new job . . .

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Mr Selfridge, Finale – Part 2

Though I’m glad Nancy Webb’s identity and motive were revealed, there was so much I couldn’t abide in the last part of the finale.

  1. Why, oh why, does Violette feel doomed to marry Jacques, the aviator? She can do better. Anyone could. She hasn’t tried to find love other than Victor.
  2. Why did Victor send Violette away? Just last week he was frolicking with her in the grass waxing eloquent about wanting a nice home.
  3. Boy, did Rosalie get little to do this season. Sergei got a bit more, but in the end wasn’t much.
  4. Why do we have sequence after sequence where in one scene someone mentions how a person must fight for their love, and the next scene shows a character doing just that. Can we get a bit of sophistication with our drama, please?
  5. The ending emotion and music was soooo flat-footed and heavy-handed it bordered on schmaltz if I understand Yiddish correctly.
  6. Miss Mardle plans to move all of a sudden. If she want’s to quit fine, but why leave a nice house? London’s big. She wouldn’t have to see Grove.
  7. Oh, then I saw it – Miss Mardle, who was a tower of strength for most of the episode is now back with Grove because he held a sit in in her foyer. Really? It wasn’t the least bit romantic, just stubborn and pathetic. She could do better. Now she’ll have to mother his brood? Or will she just be his mistress again?
  8. And, of course, after confronting Nancy, who begs for a reconciliation, which I was at least glad she didn’t get, Harry heads to Victor’s club, which we can now see was converted to a gambling den just for this purpose. Dun, dun, dun, dun–enter the Dolly Sisters with so much make up you can guess they used spatulas. Ladies and gentlemen, who’ve read Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge, we all know that these women will be nothing but trouble for Harry. His downfall must come, but so soon? And with bald, in your face music and dialog? Don’t the writers know that Masterpiece viewers are a sharp bunch that can deal with subtlety. We thrive on it.

Sepia Saturday

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This week’s Sepia Saturday is an open theme. It’ll force me to post some Mr Selfridge photos I haven’t had time to upload. These are from Selfridge Archives and WTTW’s Ask Jeffrey segment on Harry Selfridge.

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Harry Selfridge (r) with daughter Rosalie

Rosalie and Violette Selfridge

Rosalie and Violette Selfridge

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Marshall Fields where he innovated shopping

Marshall Fields where he innovated shopping

Older Harry on top of his store

Older Harry on top of his store

Oxford St. Selfridges in 1909

Oxford St. Selfridges in 1909

Recap & Comments: Mr Selfridge Finale, Part 2

Victor and Agnes resign

Victor and Agnes resign

The second part of the finale in the US (or episode 10 in Britain) begins with lively conversation at the Selfridge dinner table and Rose asking everyone to count on a traditional family dinner for Thanksgiving. The girls and Harry’s mother are back and the mood is elated. Then the mopey musician, Florian, knocks on Miss Mardle’s door. He asks about why she’s ending their affair and she explains it’s age. Really, I just don’t see this earnest violist as making anyone all that happy. It seems a matter of convenience. Whoever the agency would have sent would eventually have wooed Miss Mardle.

Harry has quite a morning. First Henri learns the charges in the U.S. are all dropped so he’ll sign up to go off to war for the French. Given what he knows about how the war is really going, I’d expect Harry to sit his friend down and try to talk him out of fighting. A little later both Agnes and Victor resign as they’re getting married while George is on leave. Like last season’s finale, Harry loses a lot of those he counts on at once. He did offer Agnes the chance to stay on, which she refused. Big mistake Agnes. Though the real Selfridge seemed more conservative and didn’t hire or promote as many women as we see on the show, this chance to bend the British rules of not letting married women work should have been considered.

The Palm Court looks elegant and I wish department stores had such lovely restaurants, not only food courts. Henri goes to Victor to apologize for speaking out of turn about Agnes’ belief in George’s well being when he was missing. He also mentioned that he’s signing up for the army. I did notice that Victor didn’t apologize for grabbing Henri’s arm and almost coming to blows. This is one reason I’ve wanted Agnes to choose Henri. She was upset to learn that Henri’s off to fight. She does care.

Rose's doctor

Rose’s doctor

The saddest thread of the story is Rose’s diagnosis. Her doctor tells her her condition is fatal. We don’t get all the details. We just get stunned as she does. The scene in the doctor’s office is short and well done. Just enough to convey the severity and provide tension.

George is overwhelmed by his colleagues as the flock around him when he visits the store. They mean well, but a mob is not what he needs. Gordon saves George saying that he should go talk with his father. I wish Henri and Gordon, who’s so keen to serve, sat in on this talk. George describes refers to the horrors of war. News and letters are censored so the public’s in the dark about the truth. It’s still a bit oblique. I wish he’d gone into more detail since we don’t see actual battle scenes. That could have been more powerful. By the end, George has inspired the store’s new displays “The Comforts of Home” about all the things that keep the soldiers going. Agnes’ swan song.

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The best image in the episode, I think, was of Rose letting the water in the fountain go over her hand when she’s at home. What a beautiful way to depict how she’s needing soothing after hearing her doctor’s diagnosis. Mr Frasier, the butler, enters and asks if all’s well. Stoically, Rose says it is and mentions that she needs to discuss Thanksgiving with him. She needs this holiday more than ever.

There’s a flurry of activity at the store as all departments prepare for the Comforts of Home campaign. A good series of scenes showing how creative and cooperative everyone is and how well Harry knows his business. At home, Rose shows the same vigor and finesse in planning Thanksgiving. Announcing that she’ll make her own pecan pies, Rose amazes Mae, who’s still staying with them. Lois, Harry’s mother, senses that something’s awry with Rose. This holiday’s getting more than the usual attention. At Victor’s Agnes, Victor and Franco plan for the wedding as a quiet George looks on. Agnes suggest putting pine needles on the floor to give the space aroma. It sounds splendid, but everyone–Victor, George and Agnes — is distracted and in their own world keeping their concerns and worries to themselves, which made for a good scene.

Following Miss Calthorpe’s advice to take action, Miss Mardle arranged for Florian to audition with an orchestra up north. He’s ticked off. He’d rather sit and brood in his room. How attractive. He sends her out of his room. It wouldn’t be the least bit hard for him to take action and contact his agency to get moved. Again, I feel there’s got to be someone better for her, someone with a pulse.

 

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Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge

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Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge provides the context and biography of H. Gordon Selfridge, Harry or Chief to his loved ones or employees. Woodhead chronicles Selfridge’s life from his youth when both his brothers died and his father deserted the family to his death. “Mile a Minute Harry” was a dynamo who started working at age 15 and made his way to Marshall Field’s in Chicago where his innovations in display and showmanship revolutionized shopping. It’s thrilling to read of this era when there was so much change and when drive and imagination could, for some, propel them to great wealth. (That still happens but so many fields have matured and aren’t new frontiers. Certainly retail isn’t half as exciting as it was when Selfridge started.)

Selfridge became a partner at Field’s due to his own chutzpah by just directly asking the much more reserved Marshall Field, who was going to offer it down the road. But when Field’s was choosing a successor, Selfridge knew it wouldn’t be him so he left Marshall Field’s and tried to start a store in Chicago. While it failed because the city just did not have enough sales staff of the ilk that Field’s had, Selfridge did make money on selling his store to Carson, Pirie, Scott. Too young to retire, he opened a store in London, a city that was stuck in time with fuddy duddy floorwalkers who’d expel any browsers. As the itv/PBS program shows Selfridge’s was part department store, part theater (an a hell of a lot like Marshall Field’s down to the evergreen bags). I enjoyed the book’s detail and rooted for Harry as he devised creative means to make shopping fun and his store bigger and amazingly service-oriented (like Field’s was).

After 1918, when his wife Rose dies, Harry’s life starts to slide, which made reading rather sad. The store was still successful, but Harry’s proclivity for women, showgirls to be more exact, got him mixed up with such greedy, shallow women. He lavishes them with jewels and money to gamble/lose that you feel the impending financial ruin coming. It’s sad because had Rose lived longer, Harry probably would not have wound up in a two bedroom flat after selling all his property and losing most of what he built up. (I so hope the TV show takes its time running through history. The man’s life is just so sad at the end.)

Woodhead offers a lot of context including what was going on in entertainment, politics and city history for both Chicago and London. She shares what his friends and relatives thought about Harry, what allies and adversaries he had. Yet I felt there was a distance between Selfridge and me, the reader. So many questions may not be possible to answer. Harry did burn a lot of his letters when he got older. It’s rather cloudy how Harry and his wife met and what their courtship entailed. I didn’t feel I knew Harry the way I knew Proust after reading his biography. That might not be fair since Proust was a writer and probably more self-absorbed than most. Woodhead’s very thorough in her research so I grant if there was information to be had she would have found it. But perhaps Harry was the sort of life of the party that no one really knows well.

Mr Selfridge Finale, Part 1

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I wanted to see more, but also dreaded the end of this season of Mr Selfridge, probably my favorite new show hands down. Miss Mardle and Florian are together in bed at the start of the show. Newspapers still won’t print Harry’s side of the procurement scandal, though they do print that Mae has left Lord Loxley. Agnes waits for news from George, but there is none. Rose convinces Harry to hear Mae out, perhaps she should be forgiven for vouching for her evil husband. Here we see Rose and Harry’s marriage it all it’s glory.

Mr Groves sees Florian and Miss Mardle together and thinks it’s untoward. Kissing goodbye on the street. Really! Also, Miss Mardle, who’s way too maternal towards Florian for my tastes, gives him lunch money as he heads off to his factory job. I’d like her to find a nice widower. It’s not just that Florian’s younger, but that he’s got so little personality. He’s part ESL student, part son, part lover. You can do better, Josie. Mr Groves agrees, this relationship isn’t right for her, but he’s far less tactful. He later calls Miss Mardle to his office and scolds her for impropriety and insults her calling her an “old fool.” For the chief of staff, Groves isn’t very good with people.

Winifred Black, journalist

Winifred Black, journalist

To help the store out of its slump, Delphine proposes bringing the spirit of her nightclub to Selfridge’s. Mr Crabb is skeptical, with good cause. Henri doesn’t say either way, but offers a different proposal, which one could take as skepticism about “The Spirit of Delphine’s at Selfridge.”  Still Harry goes with it and soon Delphine’s busy giving the Palm Court an Arabian makeover. Meanwhile Henri proposes asking journalist Winifred Black Bonfils to do an article on Selfridge’s. Since she wants carte blanche and has a huge following, it’s risky, but Harry doesn’t flinch from risk. Thackeray and Delphine expect to dazzle Winifred, but neither succeed. Instead Winifred writes about Agnes, her gumption, determination and rise through the ranks at Selfridges. The story’s a hit connecting with readers who identify with a young woman getting successful through creativity, determination and pluck. Thackeray’s envy is sure to have a long shelf life. He’s not the sort to forget a slight.

Kitty convinces Frank to investigate Loxley. Finally, it dawns on Frank that perhaps Loxley used him. Indeed, Frank. Perhaps Kitty should take your job and you could sell perfume. His editor refuses to look into another side of the story, so Frank quits. Frank and Mae team up to root out the truth.

The most ominous scenes in the show were with Rose at the doctors. Anyone who’s read Wikipedia or Lindy Woodhouse’s  Shopping, Seduction  and Mr Selfridge  knows that Rose dies in 1918. I didn’t expect to get hints of this in 1914. She’s become one of my favorite characters. Harry’s not an easy man to be married to and Rose isn’t a real assertive woman, but she isn’t a doormat either. It’s a complex, fascinating and loving relationship. Rose has gotten more involved in the store and surprised us with her shooting skill, her good decision making, and her leadership when Harry was gone. I realize she wouldn’t be in Season 4, but I hope she’s alive throughout most of Season 3. At least give us that.

When Delphine learns that Rose has a congestive problem she encourages Rose to go off to the country (so she can seduce him). Rose, you need better friends, dear.

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Mr Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridges’ is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose,and Frank would all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have. A weakness in Mr. Selfridge’s scripts is that they build up a problem like Harry getting into a car accident (didn’t happen in real life by the way) with an uninsured Rolls Royce, and then we never hear of the consequences. In the end his big spending and profligate living do Selfridge in. Why not show it?

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It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, or try Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. (Or is he?)I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridges and work with her former  lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

Amanda Abbington

Amanda Abbington

The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villains this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss Day whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me in. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.