The series #MrSelfridge is inspired by a book!

Image from IMDB

After my successful bingewatching of The Paradise on Netflix, I decided to try something that Netflix recommended. It's eerily similar to The Paradise since it also features a department store. If you're from the UK or have ever visited the UK, you probably are familiar with Selfridge's. I've heard the name but never knew the story behind it ... it was just another department store to me.

This series by PBS focuses on the founder-owner of Selfridge's - Harry Gordon Selfridge. 

Initial ... errr ...

Poster of Mr. Selfridge
I watched the first episode and against my best intentions of not getting hooked, I ended up watching the entire three seasons available on Netflix over a few weeks.

My first impression with the first episode was "Ugh, I don't like Mr. Selfridge" or rather, I didn't like the actor, Jeremy Piven, who was so obviously acting - his turns of his head, the little grin - that it rather peeved me. I will not get into this too much because to have an instant dislike to the actor portraying the main character obviously overshadows everything else. To Piven fans, my apologies, but his characterization of Mr. Selfridge did not convince me.

But (a huge BUT), I was so charmed by the character Agnes Towelr - who was laid off from her job because she broke the rules by actually being a good salesperson -- to surprise, surprise, Mr. Selfridge. Let's continue with ...

What I did enjoy

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me explain what I enjoyed about this series:

Like The Paradise, I was fascinated with the beginnings of the department store. Harry Selfridge was a fascinating man and his ability to innovate and challenge during a time where so many things were scandalous, taboo, or just "simply not done," shapes our shopping experience to this day. The series rather plays up his womanizing, gambling, drinking, his penchant for cars, and the trappings of being a moneyed gentleman of the day. A theatre man, someone who does everything with aplomb, bombastic! Perfect for a series, right?

Agnes Towler, played by Aisling Loftus
Photo from PSS
The series also depicts the history of the department store prior and post-World War, the emergence of the shopping culture, and the marketing and business savvy to keep it all going. Those who love their British history will admire how this department store stuck by its workers throughout this difficult time. I think that it is the sense of pride in family, of loyalty, and of taking care of its own is something that the Selfridge institution prides itself in.

What makes the series special, in my opinion, are the less glittery stories of the average working people that the store employed. There are a number but a few did make an impression on me.

Again, I have to mention that the story of Agnes Towler is what drew me in and made me stick through the three seasons. Her drive, ambition, hard work, and lovely persona made me highly empathetic to her as well as her brother. Throughout her career at Selfridge's, I silently cheered her on throughout a tumultuous family life, her discovery of her love for window dressing, and losing and finding love. Her brother, George, also grew on me, starting out as an awkward young man and gradually growing into his own.

Josie Mardle played by Amanda Abbington
Photo from PBS
Another character I loved whom I have to mention is Josie Mardle, the Head of Accessories. I immediately recognized her as Mary in Sherlock. (I mean, really, I'll watch anything Amanda Abbington is in as she's an incredible actress. If she's in this, I thought, it's got to be good.) Her character was that of the "other" woman, the mistress of Chief of Staff Mr. Grove. This secret life with the man she loved who was tied to an ailing wife was just tragic on so many fronts.

Characterization of society during the early 20th century shows a marked divide of the place of men and women in British society. The women in particular interested me because of the pressures of propriety, the rise of the suffragette movement, and the breaking in of women into traditionally male occupations due to the changing world.

Book inspiration 

This is based on the non-fiction book Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead. I have not read this but think it must be worthwhile for a more realistic and less Hollywoody story. Or I maybe wrong. Sometimes I like to imagine things in my head but I worry now that I've watched the series that I won't be able to get the actors' faces out of my head!
About Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead: The men who created the first department stores--what Zola called "great cathedrals of shopping"--made vast fortunes, but no one understood how shopping could become sexy as well as Mr. Selfridge. In 1909, his department store--London's first and built from scratch--opened in a glorious burst of publicity, spearheaded by the largest advertising campaign ever mounted in the British press. In his eponymous store, Harry Gordon Selfridge created nothing less than "the theater of retail." His personal life was just as flamboyant--one of mistresses and mansions, racehorses and yachts. In this revealing narrative, author Lindy Woodhead tells the extraordinary story of a revolution in shopping, depicts the rise and fall of a retail prince, and unravels a slice of social history that will surprise and entertain any woman who loves to shop.


Overall, this series is an intriguing peek of shopping in the early 20th century and the theatrics of shopping innovator Harry Gordon Selfridge. I question how close the series is to the truth. I'd classify the series as popcorn worthy. The first and second seasons were pretty good but the last season went downhill for me. The fourth season is underway and I'll probably end up watching it when it makes it way onto Netflix.

Have you ever watched Mr. Selfridge? Your impressions? Would you consider watching this series or reading the book?

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall