07/01/2013 12:00 | By Dan Owen, contributor, MSN TV

Mr Selfridge: Is it as good as Downton Abbey?

TV review: ITV1's Mr Selfridge promised to be a glitzy period drama - did it keep to its word?


Mr Selfridge


Summary

Mr Selfridge is a brand new ITV drama from writer Andrew Davies, telling the real life story of American retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), who opened his world-famous London department store in 1909.


Lowlight

I really didn't like the first scene, featuring Selfridge giving his staff a walking pep talk on opening day, before we flashed back a year to 1908. It immediately highlighted the unexpected irritation of Piven in the key role; but more on that below...


Highlight

It all looked wonderful in terms of sets, props, costumes and make-up: a visibly grander endeavour than Downton Abbey, if only because there's less restrictions.


Full Review

The BBC weren't pleased when their remake of Upstairs, Downstairs was outshone by ITV's Downton Abbey a few years ago, so they got revenge by forcing ITV to delay Mr Selfridge in the wake of their outwardly similar period drama The Paradise. Or that's the popular theory. I'm not sure it worked, because The Paradise was only a moderate hit and didn't capture the public's imagination; whereas Mr Selfridge feels like it has a better chance to soar because of the channel's association with Downton and perfect Sunday night scheduling.

"There are a number of flaws and issues"

Adapted by Andrew Davies (a practiced hand with such things), from author Lindy Woodhead's book "Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge", Mr Selfridge is a ten-part drama that touches on familiar themes of growing female independence as the Edwardian era drew to a close, and the rise of economic opportunities now the country was heavily industrialized.

More particularly, American magnate Harry Selfridge wanted to modernize the British retail experience and imbue it with US razzle-dazzle--to make the act of shopping less of a dull necessity and more of a glamorous experience.

The first episode was naturally committed to bringing the eponymous character's vision to life. It began with an expensive hole in Oxford Street where Selfridge's English financial partner decided to leave the project, but Selfridge's boundless enthusiasm couldn't accept first hurdle defeat—as much as his accountant Mr Crabb (Ron Cook) would want him to. Through sheer confidence we saw the now world-famous Selfridge's department store come together for opening day in a year—populated with staff, many of them female, and paid for

"A decent start to a drama that has the budget and talent to do well for ITV"

 with the help of Selfridge's new financial partner Lady Mae Loxley (Katherine Kelly).

As a production, Mr Selfridge's gorgeous to look at and I'm of the opinion that Davies has a better grasp of TV than Downton's creator Julian Fellowes, but there are a

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number of flaws and issues that were inescapable: chief amongst them being Piven in the lead role, who appears to be channelling Paul Giamatti's version of Willy Wonka half the time.

He's certainly as flamboyant as the script intends, but he's also noticeably more cartoonish than the British cast he's surrounded by. I found myself mostly enjoying scenes where Mr Selfridge wasn't present... and that's not good news in a show where his surname's the title.

The big surprise was from a relatively small role for Katherine Kelly as posh and saucy Lady Loxley; practically unrecognisable from her working class role on Coronation Street, she stole every scene she was in. I'm not entirely sure what the Lady's role will be going forward, but she could become this show's Maggie Smith-like treat.

Mr Selfridge was a decent start to a drama that has the budget and talent to do well for ITV, although here's hoping Jeremy Piven finds some different gears and doesn't completely overturn the show with his irritating bearded zest.

 

Three stars out of five

Verdict: Mr Selfridge is sumptuous Sunday evening viewing. It will play well to period drama fans.

What people said on Twitter:

@RickyHW: "I thought that Mr. Selfridge drama last night was quite good."

@_scottanderson9: "Just watched Mr Selfridge, decent programme actually."

@CharltonBrooker (Charlie Brooker): "Why is Mr Selfridge behaving like he's hosting Wheel of Fortune? It won't even be on for another 70 years!"

 

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