Film & Television

Mystery, Merchants and Motherhood: PBS’s Sunday Night Triple-Header

Mr. Selfridge, 10:00 pm Sundays

Like Call the Midwife and Grantchester, Mr. Selfridge is adapted from a celebrated book. In this case, Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge, described by the London Evening Standard as an “Enthralling, energetic and wonderfully detailed biography.”

In 1909, a loud-mouthed American retail magnate, Harry Selfridge, arrived in London and proceeded to knock the fine olde towne on its ear. His department store, Selfridge’s, changed the way society shopped. And, while his circus methods were initially ridiculed, no one could resist the mass-produced luxuries he offered. In some ways, stores like Selfridge’s became great equalizers. The wealthy might purchase entire wardrobes (not to mention motor cars) and dine at the Palm Court; but the city’s growing working class received the same level of service buying a bottle of toilet water for a sweetheart. The store employed hundreds and offered women unprecedented management opportunities that complemented the country’s growing suffrage movement.

Selfridge is played with great enthusiasm by three-time Emmy winner Jeremy Piven. His castmates include Frances O’Connor as his loving — if long-suffering — wife; Katherine Kelly as patroness Lady Mae; Grégory Fitoussi and Aisling Loftus as star-crossed shop employees Henri and Agnes; and a host of others. The sets, costumes and lavish store windows are a visual delight. And, as Americans, we can’t help but relish Harry’s over-the-top seduction of England’s snobbiest snobs.

You see, Selfridge was a particularly American hero: a self-made man who apparently never took no for an answer. But, while he was a merchandising genius, he was also a self-destructive thrill-seeker, egotist and gambler. In this fourth and final season, the series brings Selfridge’s story to its unfortunate — and unfortunately true — end. While he forever changed the way we shop (his concepts of retail promotions are ubiquitous on both sides of the Atlantic today), time eventually ran out and he eventually ran his empire into the ground.

Current episodes of Call the Midwife, Grantchester and Mr. Selfridge can be seen on Sunday nights your local PBS station. You can watch past episodes and entire seasons (if you’re a public television member) on demand at pbs.org. You can also find previous seasons on DVD or via subscription services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Cecilia Ford April 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

    “Call the Midwife” is one of the best PBS shows I’ve ever seen. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It never descends to soap opera level because the life and death issues are so real and central to the plot. But mostly, it’s a celebration of life, and as you said so well, the wonders of women’s “labor” in both senses of the word.

    Reply
  • Andrea April 5, 2016 at 8:05 am

    I love so many Sunday night shows on tv- I record them and watch Them During the week- even great on my iPad!! Mr selfridge is a great substitute for Downton Abbey! I adore the clothing from that era !!

    Reply