Mr Selfridge – the new Downton Abbey?

From curiosity to pleasure…

I have to admit that when I read the brief synopsis of Mr Selfridge, I was not convinced. It is only later on a rainy day that I decided to put on the first episode and see for myself. What followed was a genuine surprise and a guilty binge watch. Mr Selfridge is a TV-show about a department store. I know, this doesn’t seem very sexy and I can already read the boredom in your eyes. But please indulge me for a moment, because this series will surprise you. First of all, because, while Mr Selfridge is not a historical documentary, it will teach you a lot of (sometimes useless) stuff. To begin with the development of department stores and buying behaviour. You have to picture it, we are in London, where consumerism is still completely associated with the American way of life, and thought impossible in Europe. Indeed, Mr Selfridge is based – you guessed it – on the real-life story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American who brought a new way of shopping (some would even say of living) to London by opening his – still existing – innovative and daring store.

Another reason to watch the show is Downton Abbey. In the hope this caught your attention, I have to say that I found quite similar aspects between the two shows. Mainly regarding the same amazing costumes, habits and evolutions. Indeed both shows are period drama’s, happening in the beginning of the twentieth century in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, they will bring you a completely different vision of the world at that time.

Mr Selfridge1

Besides these more educative aspects, the story follows the Selfridge family, as well as the life of the Selfridge employees. Managed as a big family, intrigue and drama are guaranteed. You will learn that – if you didn’t know it yet – love can have many forms, can sometimes be touching, sometimes frustrating. That love is not enough to make it happen, and that it is not the only thing that can break your heart. Truly, you will see that life does not always go as it was supposed to go. On the opposite you will discover moments of pure happiness, honest love and friendship. And of course, for the less romantic amongst us, you have all the business intrigues, the development of the store, and other personal life stories that makes you want to continue seeing the show.

What a cast!

Now, everyone knows that a good story is not enough to make a good TV-show. That’s why they cast the excellent Golden Globe winner Jeremy Piven who incarnates perfectly Mr Selfridge, an ostentatious but sincerely kind man. Most of you know him from Entourage, where he already splendidly showed he could act. But what would Jeremy Piven be without his touching colleague, Frances O’Connor, nominated for two Golden Globes. She plays Mr Selfridge’s wife, and a lot of the acting can be found in her eyes. She brings true happiness, but also true sadness, making me develop a real empathy towards her. Only mentioning those two – more famous actors – are in fact a shame, because the whole cast is quite impressive.

On a more technical point of view, there are four seasons in total, each from ten episodes of 52 minutes. The show is created by Andrew Davies (who also wrote the UK version of House of Cards) and is based on a book by Lindy Woodhead named “Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge”. The first episode started on January 2013 and the show is still ongoing.

For the Netflix lovers out of there, you can find the first two seasons on it. While it is possible to watch them in French, please don’t. You’ll miss the charming accents giving the whole story a little salt and pepper.

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“I have always had more dread of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or pistol.” ― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo


  • For fans of Mr Selfridge, I recommend watching the BBC series “The Paradise” (2013), which is also about life in a department store. Set in late 19th century Paris, the Paradise is loosely based on Émile Zola’s novel “Au Bonheur des Dames”. Apart from the historical period, the main difference with Mr Selfridge is that the main character is a female employee, Denise (Joanna Vanderham) rather than the male shop owner (Moray, played by Emun Elliott). In “Mr Selfridge” the character of Agnes, a modest young woman working her way up the career ladder within the shop, appears quite central in the first seasons but is unfortunately progressively relegated to the second stage. The series is also available on Netflix.

    • Hi Soraya,
      Thank you for this useful and nice comment!
      Indeed, at first, Agnes Towler looks like she will have a quite important role in Mr. Selfridges. Unfortunately – and this was also my opinion towards the role of Mr Selfridge’s wife (Frances O’Connor) – the series put her more in the background and shits its focus more on the shop and the shop owner. I look forward to watching “The Paradise” on Netflix, and will not hesitate to come back to you with my impressions (or who knows, write a review on it).
      Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

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