1. The Women
Harry Gordon Selfridge (portrayed by Jeremy Piven) is an intriguing character, but the women in his life—Lady Mae Loxley (Katherine Kelly), Ellen Love (Zoë Tapper), Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor), and Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), among others—steal the spotlight.
2. The Store
Sure, most of the action is confined to the ground floor of Selfridges, but from inter-department rivalries, to flirtations between deliveries, to an impromptu visit from King Edward, you’ve got to give Mr. Selfridge credit for packing so much drama into such a small space.
Okay, I lied—Harry is interesting. By the middle of the first season, I excitedly tweeted a friend: “Harry is an Edwardian Don Draper!”. Tortured childhood with a deadbeat father? Check. Compulsive infidelity to fill a hole in his psyche? Check. Amazing business sense? Check. Grand gestures and great pep talks? Check. Taking an ambitious young woman under his wing during a time when women were marginalized in the workforce? Check. The comparison sounds about right to me.
4. Agnes Towler
Agnes is the “Peggy Olsen” of Mr. Selfridge, if Peggy had a charming London accent and a way with hats. Over the course of season 1, Agnes grows from a London girl with vague ambitions of rising in a department store to a self-assured woman with a flair for window design. Best yet, her romantic entanglements are merely incidental to her growth—she fearlessly goes after what she wants (and, ahem, whom she wants) and refuses to allow the men in her life to shape her decisions.
5. The Edwardian Era
So Mr. Selfridge name drops famous personalities of the Edwardian era in nearly every episode (above: Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova in episode 4); nevertheless, that draws the show—and viewers—directly into the era. The show doesn’t ever vaguely reach for the setting, or use major events as a marker of the passage of time (I’m looking at you season 2 of Downton Abbey).
6. Class, or Lack Of It
Almost every character is bound—or estranged—by their outsider status, and their attempts to either escape or reinvent their past. Class plays a role for that escape or reinvention, not as a way to uphold the status quo. This makes Mr. Selfridge the least like Downton Abbey in the wake of every 20th century-set period drama being compared to that enormously successful program.
Period dramas are usually sedate, mannered, and rather chaste, and a lot of people turn to them for that. Mr. Selfridge nonchalantly dispels the notion that the past was full of prim, buttoned-up, and easily shocked people. Especially in the faster, more cosmopolitan London social circles.
8. The Fashion
Mr. Selfridge gives you everything you want in an Edwardian period drama: the decolletage, the waistcoats, the big Merry Widow hats, the silks, the jewelry…just sumptuousness. And the clothes worn by the Selfridges staff aren’t too shabby themselves. Top Fashionista: Lady Mae Loxley.
Family is the heartbeat of Mr. Selfridge—the store family, Harry’s family, Agnes and her brother George, Mr Grove & Miss Mardle, etc. Over the course of season 1, each character experiences the harsh realities of what it means to be a family and the definition of family itself (it isn’t necessarily tied by blood). By the last episode, you realize that Mr. Selfridge deftly combines the typical markers of a period drama (fashion, drama, sumptuous settings) with deeper themes that resonate with modern viewers!
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