It’s been said time and again that people love a good story. People also like drama. So if this is the case, then why is it that so few people are watching PBS? The network’s recent import of itv Studios’ Mr. Selfridge offers viewers both a good story and more than its share of drama. The ten-part mini-series is expertly led by veteran actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage, PCU). His performance in the role of the famed retail magnate on which the mini-series is based is his finest yet. The same can be said of co-stars Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Madame Bovary), Aisling Loftus (Page Eight), Zoe Tapper (Zen), Katherine Kelly (Coronation Street), Gregory Fitoussi (Spiral), and Trystan Gravelle (Anonymous). Together with Piven (and the show’s writers), the ensemble crafted a work that fully immerses viewers both male and female into its world and keeps them engaged through each episode. Of course, one would be remiss to omit any mention of the show’s production values in its success, too. As viewers will note in the bonus “making of” featurette, painstaking work went into creating a historically accurate world. The sets and costumes took massive amounts of time to get just right and accurate. This understanding makes the final product that much more entertaining for those viewers whose minds are open enough. By the time it’s all said and done, audiences will see that while it is a British import, much as with Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge shows even more the value and importance of PBS.
The choice of bringing in Jeremy Piven to lead the cast for this itv mini-series was the first positive choice in bringing to life Harry Gordon Selfridge’s story. His portrayal of Selfridge was completely believable. He presents a man that despite being a strong and self confident businessman on the surface was also emotionally fragile and complex beneath the surface. He showed that while Selfridge was this larger than life character, he was just as human as anyone else. It makes him deeply relatable to viewers. That ability of viewers to relate to Selfridge is the starting point of the show’s success. Viewers will see this for themselves when they watch the program for themselves. On a side note, perhaps most intriguing of all about Piven being picked was why he was chosen. It was noted in the included bonus features that an American actor was specifically wanted to portray Selfridge. The woman that is interviewed tells viewers in her interview that while there were plenty of British actors that could easily handle an American accent, an American actor was wanted over a British actor for his role. This is important considering how many British actors have played American roles recently. Two prime examples would be Christian Bale and Henry Cavill as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman respectively. There are others, but these are the first two that come to mind. Keeping this choice in mind, it makes Piven, the show and its heads worthy of even more respect.
The acting on the part of Jeremy Piven and his co-stars is one of the prime reasons for the success of Mr. Selfridge. Their ability to interpret the writing will keep viewers fully engaged from the series’ opening minutes to its bittersweet end. Staying on that note, the writing behind Mr. Selfridge is another reason for the show’s success. So much goes on throughout the course of the ten episodes that make up this standout British import. Despite the number of storylines that interweave throughout the primary story, the show’s writers don’t allow the story as a whole to get bogged down even once. Rather, the script moves fluidly and at a fast pace. It isn’t too fast to lose viewers, either. The different storylines incorporated into the bigger picture make the whole thing even more successful in that they will entertain both men and women. Men will appreciate watching Selfridge’s personal journey from upstart businessman to one of London’s biggest names to an emotionally broken man. They will enjoy seeing him in his highest of highs and lowest of lows. Women will enjoy the series’ more soap opera style elements. There is infighting between the women working the displays. The infighting is the result of power struggles and to a far greater degree, romantic interests. Because the storylines are able to keep from bogging down the mini-series as a whole, it allows viewers in general to focus on one more factor that makes Mr. Selfridge even more believable. That factor is the series’ production values.
Viewers will see the painstaking efforts taken to make every episode believable in the set’s bonus features. The bonus features included in the set tell a little about a lot. This isn’t a bad thing. Those that are interested in set construction and related topics will enjoy the discussions on how a carpet warehouse was turned into the first Selfridge & Co. store. It’s incredible to think that such an open space could be turned into such a stunning set. And anyone that has any interest in fashion will appreciate the discussion on making sure that the costumes worn by both the men and women were precise for the period. Viewers will especially appreciate the discussion on the use of the corsets for women’s attire. One of the female cast members even states that she liked using the corset and wearing clothes from the period of the story. Not many women would likely so openly admit this. But she did. It’s one more entertaining and enjoyable aspect of the set that proves programming on PBS is just as valuable as any mainstream American dramas. It is available now and can be ordered from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=19273126&cp=&sr=1&kw=selfridge&origkw=Selfridge&parentPage=search. And for all of the latest update on PBS’ Masterpiece series, fans can go online to http://www.facebook.com/masterpiecepbs and “Like” it.
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