‘Mr Selfridge’ Series 2 Episode 8 review

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Having Harry omitted from last week’s events meant that the episode he returned in was always going to be fraught with tension.

It stands to reason that he is the primary focus of tonight’s episode. However, in doing so, many other worthy storylines are left virtually untouched, perhaps only referenced in passing comment. Given that one of the show’s skills is to juggle such a large ensemble cast, this seems a little unfair.

The tone of this week’s instalment is definitely more solemn than any of the run’s previous episodes. Jeremy Piven’s performance is more contained, obviously internalising the frustrations of the character. It has a vein of sadness running through it, which is unavoidable: Selfridges losing customers, employees who became soldiers being reported dead, the Selfridge name being tarnished by the ‘war boots’ scandal.

I’ve never liked the idea of Harry being some sort of Government gopher and this particular arc doesn’t work for me as a viewer. I can’t help thinking it was the wrong story for him, especially since it ties him to Lord Loxley who, thankfully it seems, may be on his way out.

Characterisation and development do continue to some degree here, and where it does, the episode is made all the better for it. Rose is now suspicious of Delphine’s motives given that she knew the true reason behind Harry’s trip and never told her and has been ingratiating herself with Harry behind Rose’s back.

Frances O’Connor is so good at delivering this in subtle ways: her body language stiffens, her vocals become more clipped. Comparing this to the overly saccharin way Delphine talks only enhances its falseness. Polly Walker and O’Connor are so good together though, and these scenes demonstrate that.

Miss Mardle’s relationship with Florian, fresh from last week’s declaration of love for her, takes a surprising yet not unwelcome turn as she returns his feelings. It also provides the clearest rationale for her repressed, awkward character. This necessary admission will hopefully allow more positive progression for her as the show continues, the seeds of which were already showing.

It was also nice to see Henri’s name cleared and his friendship with Harry reassured. Piven and Gregory Fitoussi have a lovely chemistry. However, I am wary of the fallout from his admission that he is in love with someone, clearly Agnes, and the frictions it will cause with her and Victor.

On a technical level, this was one of the show’s strongest-looking episodes: dreamy flashbacks, reflective, lingering shots and sweeping camerawork all adding to the individuality of the episode. Director Rob Evans clearly had a ball this week, exhibiting an experimental style in some shots that only a confident director could.

Yet something felt a bit…off in this episode. Perhaps I was expecting more aftermath upon Harry’s return. Perhaps I was hoping for a less solemn approach to the proceedings? Maybe, after such a consistently strong run of episodes in Series 2 so far, my expectations were too high?

Whatever the reason, it sadly felt flat in places. Mr Selfridge remains drama of a high quality, but I’m looking for next week to address more of what was missing and underplayed here.

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 9 March 2014 on ITV.

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