Public Service Announcement 3 of 2016: Spin (Les Hommes de l’ombre), Mr Selfridge

Apparently, good things do come to those who wait.

Regular readers will know that since we first clapped yeux on Pierre Clement in Spiral (Engrenages) season 1 all those years ago, In Our Dreams winner Gregory Fitoussi has been something of a favourite with me.

Last year, there was the heady but all-too-brief joy of the Fitoussi Watch Weekend with Spiral (Engrenages) and Mr Selfridge respectively, followed by the summer madness of Odyssey but, at the risk of sounding like a deranged stalker, I’ve also been hoping for a long time that someone – anyone – would buy the UK rights to exceedingly grown-up (even the trailer has “nudity and adult themes”) French spin doctor drama Les Hommes de l’ombre, because the idea of a critically acclaimed, utterly fantastic-looking, sharp political drama, in French, with Gregory F in it (as well as a bunch of other potentially fabulous folk I’m not yet acquainted with), sounds so amazing I’m scared I might have dreamt it.

Not only did I not dream it, however, but Walter has bought seasons 1 and 2 for me! Now called “Spin” in accordance with that oddly patronising tv convention where imported drama is given an anglicised new name when screened in the UK (we can cope with the entire programme being in French, you guys, I think we can cope with the title being in French too), Les Hommes will be making their UK tv debut on Friday (8th January) at 9pm on More 4 (in a double bill. Naturellement.) and I will be watching, reviewing and generally getting very, very excited over the whole business as soon as I can.

Ironically, however, at the same time, same night, but over on ITV 1, Mr Selfridge, now without Mr Fitoussi, returns for its fourth, final and much less inviting run. I’m not sure if I’ll be watching or not; having sat through three seasons of diminishing returns, and without the prospect of any Henri and Agnes to leaven the mix, I don’t quite know if I can face any more of Mr S’s downward spiral or Mr Colleano’s Club/Casino carry-on. Especially since history suggests it’s not going to end well. If I do decide to tune in, it’ll be for completeness more than anything else, but I’ll let you know…

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Mr Selfridge s3 ep 10

It’s taken me longer than I would have liked to review the Mr Selfridge season finale, mainly because real life (and Poldark) got in the way, but the couple of days I’ve had to muse about it in the meantime got me thinking, of all things, about Romeo and Juliet.

Not because Mr Selfridge is anywhere close to Shakespeare – the gulf between the two is about the same as the distance between Mars and planet Earth – but because I remember reading an argument somewhere that the only significant difference between Romeo and Juliet and a comedy like, say, Twelfth Night is the ending. I suspect this episode, possibly this season as a whole, wanted to say something profound about class as a potential obstacle to love, with Violette and Victor and S (Club) Junior and Grace, respectively, struggling to reconcile their social positions and their hearts’ desires. Since this is Mr Selfridge, however, what we got instead was a parade of endings, some happy some not, with your favourite/least favourite couple having to accept the luck of the draw. Or the writing of the script.

In fairness to Mr Selfridge, though, real life (interfering with my tv again!) history has something of a say in how some of these romances must end, so maybe I’m not being entirely fair. Without delving into that real life history too much, though, I wonder if the necessary constraints it must place on writing about the Selfridge family themselves are part of the reason why the relationships of fictional characters like Miss Mardle and Mr Grove are much more interesting. Watching this, I really didn’t care what happened to Violette and Victor or Mr S and Miss Webb or S (Club) Junior and Miss Calthorpe in the end, but I did care about Miss Mardle. Yes, Mr Grove has been appalling to her, and no, I’m not sure I’d have forgiven him, but at least she told him so. Loudly and clearly. And she’s so wonderful and she’s wanted him so long – I hope it works out. Especially since Mr Crabb was so awesome about sorting it. I LOVE Mr Crabb.

Sadly, I’m not loving much else about the show these days, though. Since Henri and Agnes left, the show has a sort of “final reductions” week at the sales feel about it: there are some great pieces (Mr Crabb! Miss Plunkett, George etc) and ideas (the gender politics themes were dealt with surprisingly well early on in the season) buried among the discount racks, but you have to dig through a lot of polyester piffle to get to them.

The Loxley plot, after weeks of build-up, petered out into nonsense – this super-clever, super-manipulative uber-villain who’d spent months carefully, methodically laying a secret trap for Mr S, suddenly lost his mind at the last minute and literally shouted his entire scheme to everyone he was trying to fool. The Selfridge Estate plot finished up the way it had to, I suppose, but took an interminable time getting there, when the purpose of it was really just to get Mr S back to the gambling and womanising he was doing two seasons ago. And as for the focus on Colleano’s Club… oh my God, who on earth CARES?

Sigh. Truth be told, Gregory Fitoussi was the show’s biggest draw for me and, now he’s gone, I keep coming back to two main problems – I don’t care about the Selfridges themselves and I don’t care about Victor either. Which is unfortunate because, ultimately, they became this season’s main focus. I much prefer the show when it’s about the staff or the store, rather than the owners or the club. If we can’t have Henri back next year, can we at least have more about his colleagues? Or, final one or not, I’m not sure I’ll make it as far as next season’s finale.

Mr Selfridge s3 ep 9

As one very boring enterprise closes, another one opens: Colleano’s Club is now a private members’ Casino with, as Mr Regan notes with some menace, a distinct lack of private members. Till Victor sends out invitations to his rich Palm Court connections – why he couldn’t have done that before the Casino opened isn’t entirely clear – and people start showing up. If those people don’t start losing though, the Club could Close once again. A girl – especially one who is supremely fed up with this season’s focus on Colleano, Clubs and this type of Carry-on – can hope, right?

Or a girl can stop hoping and make things happen for herself. Well done then to Miss Calthorpe who stands firm on the Say No to S (Club) Junior issue. Till she doesn’t. Sigh. You could do so much better, Miss C. But, as we say a lot round these parts, the heart wants what the heart wants. Even if the heart is a moron.

Speaking of which, Mr S and Miss W continue to slobber over each other, as she continues to try and reconcile her competing careers of con artist and future society wife. There are two major obstacles to that particular ambition though; Evil Gus is determined to see the plan through, and Princess Wizwaz is beginning to see through the plan. Takes a con artist to know one, eh, Your Highness?

But, then again, I’m not being entirely fair to the Princess, since the origin story I thought she’d made up seems to be confirmed by the arrival of the jewels I thought she’d made up as well. And while I was unimpressed by her immediate desire to fund Sergei’s expensive aeroplane dreams with her sudden largesse, her offer to pay Mr S back for everything deserves credit, even if he (idiot that he is) turns her down. I like that she’s looking out for him anyway and, since she seems good at it, who knows? If she’s looking for a new venture to invest her money in, “Princess Wizwaz Investigates” has a nice ring to it.

Unfortunately, even Princess Wizwaz can’t protect Mr S and the store from Lord Loxley. The Sale of the Century means buying too much stock, taking out too much advertising and playing too easily into Lord L’s hands, as hot-headed Harry allows himself to be goaded into making things even worse with the surprisingly easily-manipulated Board. Have these people really forgotten that Lord L’s a traitor and a liar? Hmm.

Since Lord L’s not a fool, however, he seems to be running rings round Mr S, even with the loyal Mr Crabb – still the best character in the show – standing by the Chief’s side and ready to “stick it to them!” Hurrah for Mr Crabb! Here’s hoping he and new Head of Security George Towler (now promoted to second-best character in the show) can save the store, sort things out between Miss Mardle and Mr Grove (who deserved that tongue-lashing she gave him and more besides) and give us something heartwarming to look forward to in next week’s finale. Otherwise, forget Loxley and the Board, the audience – or this member of it anyway – losing any interest it had in the show may be a far bigger problem.

Mr Selfridge s3 ep 8

The quest to fill the gap left by Gregory Fitoussi continues this week with the show throwing not un but deux well-dressed Frenchmen at the problem.

The dapper Vicomte de Sibour is Sergei’s new friend and business partner, a pilot with an inexplicable fascination with Violette; she rebuffs him at first but, by the end of the episode, seems more intrigued than averse to the idea of taking a ride in his flying machine (that’s not a euphemism. Ok, it is a euphemism) and why not? He’s got an aeroplane, a nice suit and he (sort of) fits in with her rule of only dating people she shares an initial with.

Vicomte de Sibour is visiting the store as part of one of those big Selfridge promotions Mr S loves, so of course we need some sort of display to drum up interest. S (Club) Junior tries to enlist our other Gallic friend, Monsieur Longchamp, to set this up in Fashion, a slightly strange idea which causes said Monsieur to wonder aloud – and not unreasonably so – what on earth Fashion has to do with Aeroplanes. We don’t hear from Monsieur Longchamp again.

Which is fine, because the episode is more than busy dealing with everyone else’s problems. Having saddled Miss Mardle – or, more accurately, the endlessly patient George Towler – with Ernest, Mr Grove spends the bulk of the episode refusing to get over himself despite the best efforts of the frankly wonderful Mr Crabb (and Mrs Crabb – off screen, but still awesome) to gently help him out of his sulks. It takes a surprisingly moving talking-to from George to jar Mr G out of it, but not before Connie becomes the second Hawkins sister to notice Mr Towler’s charms. He’s come a long way since season 1.

While George turns out to be some sort of Baby Whisperer, however, three weeks with Ernest is enough to make Miss Mardle reflect, with some sadness, that raising children is not amongst her talents. Thank goodness for Kitty, then, who points out, kindly, sweetly and firmly, that all the young girls who’ve worked under Miss M at Selfridges might have something to say about that – Josie might not be great at looking after children, but she’s fantastic at looking after adults. Bless.

With half the cast thus preoccupied with baby issues, it’s left to the other half to worry about love lives and/or profit margins. Victor – to my complete lack of interest – decides to get over Violette and rein in Regan’s buddies by re-launching Colleano’s as a private gambling club. I’m sure that’ll go swimmingly. Mr S, unsettled by Loxley’s scrutiny and unsure how he’s going to fulfil last week’s ridiculous promise to the shareholders, interprets Miss Webb’s “let’s take a break” as “let’s take a psychotic break” and proposes to her. And S (Club) Junior is finally caught making out with an underling – ok, it’s Miss Calthorpe – in the store room. Mr Crabb (the best thing about this show now) gently and sensibly points out the numerous reasons why this is not really on, only to be roundly ignored by S (Club) Junior because S (Club) Junior’s an idiot. Miss Calthorpe, however, is not – looks like that romance might not make it to the end of this season, let alone the next one.

Mr Selfridge s3 ep 7

I thought this shipping and shopping business was supposed to be fun?

If last week’s episode was a mix of the cheerful and the calamitous, this one had clearly sold out of cheerful and over-stocked on calamitous just to keep the shelves full.

We began with tears and tea-cups at Doris’s wake, followed that up with poor Miss Mardle inheriting the Billy Problem and added in a spot of drug-dealing and organised crime at Colleano’s (getting more screen time these days than Selfridges itself) to keep things suitably depressing. On the off-chance this wasn’t enough misery to be going on with, though, we also had to endure Victor and Violette’s latest break-up (seriously – together or apart, does anyone actually care about these two?), Lord Loxley getting his claws into the store and Mr Grove banishing baby Ernest. Banishing baby Ernest! My, what a prince of a guy old Roger is – taking it out on the blameless, motherless infant is totally the way to go. No one could possibly accuse him of being a hypocrite or anything given his philandering with Miss M, oh no. *rolls eyes*

Speaking of philandering, meanwhile, the Great Philanderer himself, Mr S, spent the week giving away expensive stock to his latest squeeze and blaming Sergei (who is an idiot yes, but he’s not the only one) for selling shares which ended up in Loxley’s hands, having done exactly the same thing himself. Or, to put it another way, given that the store’s profits are going down and Loxley now has a seat on the board, Mr S spent the week fiddling while Selfridges burned.

A bleak, tiresome episode, then, filled with bleak, tiresome characters. With ratings on the slide and Poldark on the other side, this show really needs to buck up or, come season’s end, it may well have to shut up shop, forever.

Mr Selfridge s3 ep 6

A mixed shopping bag of an episode this week, with some light-hearted store-based shenanigans twinkling along cheerily in amongst all sorts of calamity and strife.

New Deputy Store Manager S (Club) Junior and the Soul Patch of Silliness take up their new post – much to the entirely justified and mildly comical chagrin of both Mr Grove and myself – and promptly attempt to fill the Gregory Fitoussi-shaped gap with A.N.Other Frenchman. Step forward Monsieur Longchamps, who causes consternation then delight then more consternation by dint of a little thievery, a revolving tree thingy and a deeply ugly underwear-themed window display. Zut alors! Monsieur Leclair would never have been so indelicate, but subtle Monsieur Longchamps is not.

Nor is this episode, starting as it does with a mopey Violette and an equally mopey yet inexplicably shirtless Victor. Mr S giving thanks that Mrs S isn’t here to witness Violette’s shame is obviously a trifle hypocritical given that Miss S isn’t doing anything with the former help that Mr S isn’t doing with the current, but apparently “a gentleman won’t marry a woman who’s disgraced.” Or, as most women out there will have heard more times and in more contexts than they can count: “it’s different for boys.”

Argh.

Putting the Selfridge sexual double standard to one side for the moment – because nobody wants to think about the words “Selfridge” and “sexual” together for any longer than necessary – I don’t give two dessous affriolants about Victor and Violette, shirtless or otherwise, but the show seems very keen to promote them as Oxford Street’s answer to Romeo and Juliet and simultaneously get the most out of the Colleano’s club set. So, while Mr S keeps Violette busy – but still lovelorn, mind – with a made-up job on the made-up building project he’s about to lose all his money and the store on (just how dense is this man?!), man of honour Victor makes a deal with a dodgy businessman, which is apparently much better than making a deal with a dodgy policeman. Or not. George Towler and I are unconvinced.

Colleano’s club worries aside, though, George is having something of a banner week. Since the club’s temporarily closed, he takes his Forrest-Gump-as-bodyguard act on the road, saving Mrs Edwards from attack (twice), from the pain of a trial and from any further damage to her marriage. The fact that these are all areas where Mr Edwards has failed miserably is not lost on his wife – is that a renewed interest in George I see, Kitty, or just a little extra rouge on your cheeks? – but Frank appears to be forgiven for now. For NOW.

No sooner is one trauma averted, however, than another one pops up in its place. Miss Mardle’s attempts to assist Mrs Grove were always going to end badly, but the light-hearted nature of most of the episode meant I wasn’t prepared for quite how badly. From dessous to death in a matter of minutes: Mon Dieu. Neither an entirely successful shift in tone, nor an entirely successful episode, then, and with the pick’n’mix of misery on offer at the moment – Billy’s sights set on baby Ernest, Loxley’s sights set on revenge and Mr S’s sights set on bankrupting himself – I’m not really looking forward to the rest of the season either.

Mr Selfridge s3 ep 5

“I know we had all night, but all I can think of is when are we gonna kiss again?”

Ugh.

In a fruitless bid to distract us from last week’s loss of Henri, this week’s Mr Selfridge throws three – THREE – secret, doomed romances at us, each inducing varying degrees of discomfort in the confused, distressed viewer who has watched the show this long for Gregory Fitoussi and, now he’s gone, is kind of stuck with it.

With no Leclairs around to awwww at, then, there may be no shortage of snogging on-screen but there’s a distinct lack of shipping at the House of Cregg.

Mr S’s affair with Miss Webb would be rendered embarrassing enough by Mr S’s wildly enthusiastic participation – remember the heady days of Ellen Love? Best not – but that opening line of his takes proceedings into a whole new realm of mortification. The sooner Miss Webb goes the same way Miss Love did, the better.

If Mr S’s love life is embarrassing, however, Angry Victor’s is just unpleasant. That his half-naked encounter at the club with Violette is cut short by a police raid on trumped-up charges may be unfair to both Mr Colleano and Miss Selfridge, but it’s also an act of mercy for at least one member of the audience who really did not want to see any more. Memo to Victor: Please do not dally with debutantes in your office. Anyone might walk in. And some of us were eating.

Of course, this is advice which S (Club) Junior and his soul patch might also do well to heed, now that he’s kissing Miss Calthorpe in stock rooms and such. Not entirely appropriate behaviour for Store Deputy Manager, one might think, but the starry-eyed Miss Calthorpe convinces S (Club) Junior to “apply” for the post anyway – the “application” process consisting of marching into Papa’s office and demanding the job – and he gets it, immediately, which means we’re not only robbed of the chance to see Miss Mardle or Mr Crabb running things (so much for the job “going on merit”, eh, Mr S?) but we’re also going to see a lot more of S (Club) Junior.

Neither Violette nor I are very pleased about this.

While Miss Mardle is unsuccessful on the promotion front, however, a promising new career as a PI (or a post at Miss Blenkinsopp’s Information Bureau!) may await her, uncovering as she does Mrs Grove’s tragic secret – which has something of the doomed romance about it as well – by giving her what appears to the 1919 version of truth serum, cunningly disguised as, um, a cake in a tin.

Poor Mrs Grove. Her marriage may never actually have been a romance, but it was always doomed too. And it’s beginning to look like the Edwards are similarly cursed, as Kitty’s idiot sister makes a bad situation infinitely worse and exposes her blameless sister to a mercenary and misogynist press. It’s worth noting that Amy Beth Hayes is doing excellent work as Kitty at the moment, and the show itself is far better when it’s looking sensitively and intelligent at post-war changes in gender politics in this way – even the Lord Loxley sub-plot is interesting in that context – and as it has in general over the past few weeks, than it is when one of the male leads is dutifully kissing yet another ingenue.