It is already being hailed as the new Downton Abbey, but ITV’s new costume drama, Mr Selfridge hasn’t quite reached such levels yet. As the show tells the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of retail giant Selfridges, the first episode which was screened last night felt more like a pilot episode or a prologue in anticipation of the main action. The cast is strong and the storyline is good, but superlative exclamations of praise are being reserved until the series plays out.
A lavish costume drama with a good-looking cast has proved very successful for ITV, so it’s not surprising that critics are already predicting Mr Selfridge to replace Downton as ITV’s new flagship prime-time drama. Written by Andrew Davies and starring Jeremy Piven as the titular character, the first episode served as a nice prelude for what is to come. The fast pace of the first episode means that there is a lot of drama to be expanded upon in the coming weeks, most notably Harry’s relationship with his wife and his hinted-at affection for other women. It will be interesting to see how Katherine Kelly’s character, the socialite and financier Lady Mae’s character expects recompense for her investment. Likewise, the “essence” of Selfridges – show-girl Ellen Love, played by Zoe Tapper proved herself to be a coquettish, yet likeable go-getter whose advances towards Harry were less than subtle. Expect fireworks and most likely, lots of sex.
Piven plays Selfridge excellently. As the man who wanted to make shopping a thrilling experience, Piven’s Selfridge is brilliantly extravagant and theatrical, but never over-done. He brings the unending American ambition that will undoubtedly come to be his hamartia as well as his most endearing attribute. It’s clear that the “spectacle” and the show is just as important, and maybe more so than the more pragmatic side to running a business and Piven plays Selfridge as a charismatic and bursting-to-succeed entrepreneur. You get the sense that he is about to be mischievous and perhaps unfaithful to his wife, but because of Piven’s portrayal, you want to love him.
Katherine Kelly shone as the temptress Lady Mae and proving she has come a long way from the cobbles of Coronation Street as Becky Granger, she may well be Mr Selfridge’s answer to Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley. Mr Selfridge definitely has both style and substance and let’s hope the former doesn’t overshadow the latter as the series progresses. We wait with high hopes.