As war has created change within the day-to-day lives of the store and its staff, so to has this episode, which has a distinct tonal shift as it focuses more on certain characters coping in the outbreak of war and provides further development to key plots and themes.
In an effort to boost morale amongst the new female workforce, Selfridges organises a rifle training exercise to prepare everyone to defend themselves and create some camaraderie amongst the new employees. As the store adapts as best it can to the new changes, Harry is also thrown by the underhand actions of Lord Loxley during a poker game held at Delphine’s.
Women and the war effort is a major theme here and the ladies of the episode do seem to get more screen time, and rightly so, with Miss Mardle (Sherlock’s Amanda Abbington) and Agnes (Aisling Loftus) in particular getting some necessary growth. I’m a huge fan of Abbington’s awkward portrayal of Miss Mardle, but in this episode you really see the heart of the character, as she defies convention to allow a male Belgian refugee to stay with her.
It provides an understated yet captivating performance from Abbington, who is fast becoming one of the major reasons to tune in every week. Similarly, Agnes is coping with missing George, the living arrangement with Miss Mardle and the increasing tensions at Selfridges, and Loftus’ earnest and truthful performance is lovely to see. Romantically, it is also nice to see her relationship with Victor (Trystan Gravelle) move on as it does, with the closing few minutes sealing the union many have anticipated this series.
What struck me about the latest episode, penned by Kate O’Riordan, is the way that, as a result of circumstances, different combinations of characters share screen time. It was welcome and refreshing to see Thackeray mix with Lady Loxley, and Rose share scenes with Mr Grove. Of these particular pairings, it was good to see Cal Macaninch take a more prominent role, as he also attempts to deal with Henri, and for Rose (Frances O’Connor) to be seen to have a role in the show beyond her relationship with Harry. Polly Walker’s Delphine Day takes a larger role here too, but shuns Rose in favour of Harry, adding fuel to the fire that she has an agenda beyond her friendship with the Selfridges.
The reality of war is touched upon but with respect and subtlety: the Defence of the Realm Act being brought into conversation over the breakfast table, the lights off policy on Selfridges’ display windows to aid the blackout, the omitted wording on George’s letter home to Agnes. It maintains a hope that everything will be okay, but also provides an exploration of those left behind.
Of the men left behind, Gordon Selfridge (Greg Austin) and Mr Crabb (Ron Cook) are showing the signs of feeling lost as they can’t aid in their country’s fight. However, this does illustrate Ron Cook’s superb portrayal of Mr Crabb, who is incredibly moving in his scenes, particularly his last one with Jeremy Piven’s Harry.
And so to the poker game. With Delphine organising it primarily so that Harry can meet some local businessmen involved in the Military Procurement committee, he finally sees Lord Loxley’s back stabbing behaviour.
Aidan McArdle’s odious Loxley has been the weakest character this season so it is nice that Harry, not only finally sees his true colours, but also trumps him in a winning hand of poker. Credit should also go to director Lawrence Till, who made the gaming scenes tense to watch.
This episode seems to show Mr Selfridge evolving into something different; only natural in the outbreak of war and the dramatic circumstances it creates. Characters who have left are acknowledged (Gabriella, Uncle Joe, George), but there is a distinct sense of looking to the future and moving with the times and adjusting social circumstances. This is fine by us, as these shifts allow for some fantastic drama and development that maintain the show’s four star quality.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 16 February 2014 on ITV.
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