Some old faces have departed, some new faces have arrived, but there is an encouraging air of change in this episode to catapult us successfully back into the events of the store and the lives of its workers.
Returning to England to show a public display of support for her estranged husband, Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor) befriends bohemian novelist Delphine Day and convinces Harry to have a book reading event at Selfridges to tie in with the stores anniversary celebrations. This provides the backdrop for other notably dramatic events, such as the reappearance of Agnes Towler and the interference of Lady Loxley’s insufferable husband.
A lot is handled in this episode, which is beautifully directed by Anthony Byrne and stays true to the decadent period detail admirably. Rose and Harry’s fractured relationship is given enough screen time to be engaging, yet with enough material to explore in future episodes: the reappearance of Henri Leclair, their son Gordon coming to work at Selfridges, Rose’s business partnership with Delphine. All designed to add further dramatic layers as the story unfolds.
Agnes’ reappearance provides a lovely romantic tension between her and Victor (Trystan Gravelle) as well as her new position as Head of Displays causing some comic friction with the Head of Fashion’s Mr Thackeray (Cal Macaninch). Even events that were not explored as in depth (Mr Grove’s attempts to deal with work and home life, Frank Edwards and Kitty’s relationship, and the battling Loxleys) were all alluded to just enough that we will see these plot threads explored in more detail later in the series.
One minor quibble is the inclusion of Lord Loxley (played by Garrow’s Law star Aidan McArdle). He is sadly too much of a hateful character (rather than a love-to-hate character) to identify with, and he draws away the wonderful Katherine Kelly into his scenes, whereas she is so much more watchable and entertaining in her scenes with the Selfridges regulars.
Of course, holding all of these elements together, despite a strong ensemble team, is the charismatic Jeremy Piven as Harry Selfridge. Piven provides a brilliantly subtle take on the flawed, yet entirely three dimensional Harry: his frustration over his marital issues, his quietly building outrage towards a journalist trying to pry into his family problems, his genuine joy and thankfulness at the staff’s anniversary gift and seeing his wife again. It’s a performance of depth and range, but one that commands, and Piven has clearly slipped back into the role comfortably.
Enough has been set up here to take the series and its characters into some very interesting directions, particularly Rose. With the arrival of some new blood, and a sparkling, witty script, written by Andrew Davies and Kate Brooke, we look forward to seeing what Series 2 has in store.
The ‘talk of war’ mentioned in the episode and the ominous announcement of Archduke Franz Ferdinand placing events in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, can no doubt only mean some serious drama ahead for Mr Selfridge and co.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 19 January 2014 on ITV.