When series two of Mr Selfridge ended last year, the future for the wealthy department store dynasty was uncertain. Harry Selfridge had vanquished his adversary Lord Loxley, but he was about to face his biggest hardship yet. When the series returned in the new year we knew it would be without the reassuring presence of the Selfridge matriarch, Rose, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. So when the first episode premiered it was a pleasant surprise to see that the family hadn’t disintegrated without the loving mother and wife, but had in fact been brought closer by her death.
Of course they were still mourning their loss, but the notorious family had plenty to keep them occupied as the swish Selfridge doors opened to London’s finest in the aftermath of the war. Master Gordon was by his father’s side, learning the tricks of the Selfridge trade having worked his way up from the loading bay, Rosalie was getting married to the son of a Russian princess and Violette was seeking mischief and scandal as a young lady with the whole world at her feet.
Harry became embroiled in his own personal humiliation as he fell in love with a con artist who planned to steal his money. As it turned out, trickster Nancy broke her number one rule by falling in love with her target and she was left penniless and disgraced when Harry found out about her lies in the series finale. It could have ended a lot worse, with Harry having sold some of his shares in Selfridges to fund Nancy’s bogus housing project.
If we thought that we’d seen the end of Lord Loxley in series two, we were mistaken. Loxley returned with a vengeance and one mission: to destroy Harry Selfridge. Unwittingly capitalising on Nancy’s swindling, Loxley wanted to bankrupt Harry and take away his precious store. He almost succeeded too, and still might, given the open-ended finale which saw Harry taking to the gambling tables to lick his Nancy-inflicted wounds.
It wasn’t just the Selfridges who were experiencing change this series. All the main characters – as well as society in general – were evolving. Having jumped forward four years, this series focused on the repercussions of the war, chiefly what it meant for the men returning physically and mentally scarred, and the women who’d stepped up in their absence and taken on traditionally male jobs.
There was a nice contrast between the relief people felt at the war being over and the tension that was rising as the men realised their jobs had been taken and many of them were homeless. The issue of women’s rights and equality was something that the series explored throughout its 10-episode run. Poor Kitty Hawkins, who’s always been such a feisty and spirited character, was violently attacked by a man who wanted to take out his post-war misfortunes on her. As ever, Mr Selfridge isn’t just a pretty period drama, it feeds history into the story too.
To balance out the drama, there was the usual glamour and visual flair running through each episode; from the set pieces to the costumes, Mr Selfridge is always a colourful and dazzling display. I’ve always enjoyed the theatricality of the series and the subtle moments of humour come through in the dialogue, which seemed at an all time best this series. Ron Cook’s Mr Crabb was a particular delight as he championed his ‘chief’ behind the scenes, while Mr Grove and Miss Mardle’s friends-or-lovers repartee sparkled in the finale when their relationship finally came full circle. New faces like Zoe Wanamaker’s sneaky Princess Marie and Sacha Parkinson’s lively Connie Hawkins were welcome additions, replacing the holes left by the likes of Agnes (Aisling Loftus) and Henri (Gregory Fitoussi) who left for the peace and quiet of France following Henri’s PTSD.
Mr Selfridge has always been Jeremy Piven’s show and he’s a consistently charismatic presence as he balances Harry’s reckless ambition with his weakness for women and his desire to do right by his family. While Harry’s life didn’t unravel at the loss of his wife, it looks set to collapse in the next series which, if it sticks to the usual timescale, will air in early 2016. Loxley is still on the war path, Gordon is leaving the family business to pursue his romance with shop girl Grace, Violette is running off to Paris to marry a man she doesn’t love, and Harry is dangerously close to losing control of his beloved store. Could this be the final straw for the titular showman?