For the last three years, my dreary January has been brightened up by Mr Selfridge. Not because it’s great drama – if I tried to claim it was Breaking Bad or House of Cards you’d laugh me into the job centre – but the combination of sparkling shop floors, luxurious furs and feathers, and Jeremy Piven’s toothy grin has never failed to serve up a delightful portion of Sunday night viewing.
And – unlike BBC rival The Paradise which shut its doors after two series – Mr Selfridge has gone from strength to strength. The first two series delivered financial struggles, entrepreneurial flair, marital strife, salacious gossip, domestic abuse, sordid affairs, lavish parties, Arthur Conan Doyle and Anna Pavlova, and culminated in half of the male cast being sent off to fight in the First World War.
The latter added a dash of nervous anticipation to the start of series three – who would make it back alive and who had perished at the front? Henri may have returned to Agnes, but Franco Colleano and Miss Mardle’s young beau Florian weren’t so lucky…
So, while the action jumped to 1919, grief remained prevalent in tonight’s episode, beginning just days after Rose’s death before fast-forwarding again to nine months to the day of Rosalie Selfridge’s wedding to the dashing Russian prince Serge de Bolatoff.
The society do afforded Mr Selfridge the chance to do what it does best – put on a show – as guests took to the store’s decadent roof to celebrate the newlyweds. Champagne flowed, diamonds dazzled and we were given our introduction to the series’ newest cast members.
It’s testament to Selfridge’s success that it’s managed to lure the talents of Zoe Wanamaker who joins the ITV drama as Russian princess Marie de Bolatoff – mother to Serge (Leon Ockenden), the playboy prince wed to Harry and Rose’s eldest daughter. She’s now played by Kara Tointon whose real-life sister Hannah has also signed on as Rosalie’s younger sister Violette.
This quartet of newcomers certainly added some star power to a show that can no longer count on Katherine Kelly’s deliciously wily socialite Mae Loxley, but I’ve got a bone to pick: the accents.
While Ockenden is let off lightly as the plummy-toned prince, the Tointon sisters are lumbered with an American twang that jars every time they open their mouths. Now, I’m not the accent police – my best attempts will always dip into a middle-eastern lilt so I can appreciate the difficulties of maintaining what I presume is intended to be a Chicago drawl.
I’ve also spent many hours watching EastEnders and Hollyoaks during both sisters’ tenure so, in their defence, my memories of Dawn Swann and Katy Fox could be clouding my judgement. But to this viewer it looked at times like their efforts to maintain those accents came at the expense of their acting.
And then there’s Zoe Wanamaker’s pantomime Russian royal. To their credit, the producers are sticking to the real story: Rosalie really did marry Serge, and he and his mother did indeed move into their house. But the decision to have one of Britain’s acting greats doing her very best impression of a Russian gangster seems a strange one. Mr Selfridge isn’t a show I usually snigger at…
Episode one certainly had its highlights, including Agnes and Henri’s happy reunion and hyperventilating Mr Crabb’s vodka shot – but the dodgy accents muscled in on the best of the drama.
Mr Selfridge has always offered Sunday evening escapism – an opportunity to forget the impending Monday doom and gloom – but tonight it was the American twang and Russian drawl I was seeking an escape from…
A peek behind the scenes at Mr Selfridge: