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Mr. Selfridge reopens for a second season on PBS

'Mr. Selfridge' on PBS.

Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven, center) thanks his staff on his store’s fifth anniversary in tonight’s two-hour ‘Masterpiece’ premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on PBS.


Mr. Selfridge, the glossy and gloriously addictive Masterpiece soap opera somewhat freely adapted from historical events, ended Season One (now available for free streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers) with Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) at a low point both personally and professionally. Window designer Henri LeClair (Gregory Fitoussi), whose displays had played an invaluable part in giving Selfridge’s department store a striking public image, had turned in his notice to accept a high-profile job in New York, a decision Harry perceived as a personal betrayal.
Far worse, his long-suffering wife, Rose (Frances O’Connor), decided to leave London and take their children back to America after she reluctantly agreed to accompany her husband to the opening of a new play that starred his most recent mistress, only to discover the piece was a savage satire attacking the private lives of her family.
Season Two, which premieres tonight on PBS with a two-hour episode, picks things up five years later, in the spring of 2014, as the Selfridge’s staff prepares to celebrate the store’s fifth anniversary. Rose, good as her word, has kept the kids stateside during the interval, but she returns to London to perform her wifely duties – specifically and pointedly limited to performing her Mrs. Selfridge role at public events. Beyond that, she makes clear, she is not remotely interesting in resuming a relationship with Harry after his years of compulsive infidelity.
Joining his parents in London is Selfridge scion Gordon (Greg Austin), now 15, who announces his intentions to quit school in favor of starting his training to run a store he eventually will inherit. Rose protests, but Harry approves. Unfortunately for Gordon, he soon discovers that being the boss’s son, especially at a time when rumors of war are stirring up labor unrest, can be a mixed blessing at best.
Greg Austin joins the cast of the 'Masterpiece' series 'Mr Selfridge' this season.

Greg Austin takes over the role of son Gordon Selfridge, now 15, in tonight’s Season Two premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on ‘Masterpiece.’


The gala anniversary prompts the return of others as well, including Harry’s protégée Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), back from an intensive two-year design program in Paris and ready to assume her new duties as head of display for the entire store. She immediately clashes, however, with Selfridge’s officious new head of fashion, Mr. Thackeray (Cal Macaninch), who promptly starts engineering a stealth campaign to ensure Agnes’ failure.
Elsewhere, Harry’s high-maintenance yet loyal friend and benefactor Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly) faces an unpleasant obstacle when her errant and usually absent husband, Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdle), unexpectedly returns, bankrupt from gambling and seeking to replenish his fortune by fair means or foul – mostly the latter, which include blackmail and war profiteering.
On a far more pleasant note, those of us who watched sadly last season as Miss Mardle (the glorious Amanda Abbington, Sherlock) was jilted by her selfish lover, Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill), can revel in some major karmic blowback this season, as fate smiles brightly on the former and nearly crushes the latter.
Also joining the cast this season is the delightful Polly Walker (HBO’s Rome) as Rose’s new close friend Delphine Day, whose bohemian sensibilities – along with a spicy autobiography and sexy new nightclub – only sharpen Rose’s resolve to be her own woman, free of submission to Harry’s humiliations.
Piven, who is also a producer on the series, is somewhat ideally cast as the intense, brash title character, and he pulls off the character’s more vulnerable moments – which felt false too often in Season One – more successfully in the new episodes (to paraphrase a very old joke, apparently this actor finally has mastered the art of faking sincerity). The only jarring note is the new character of Lord Loxley, a one-dimensional pipsqueak of a villain portrayed by McArdle in a laughably over-the-top performance.
As in Season One, the lavish physical production, with what appears to be slavish attention to period details, is beyond reproach, fully on the same impressive level as Masterpiece’s uber-smash, Downton Abbey. Mr. Selfridge may not be high art, but it is gourmet popcorn of the highest level.
Polly Walker (center) joins the cast of 'Mr. Selfridge' for  Season Two.

Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor, left) congratulates her new friend Delphine Day (Polly Walker, center) on the publication of her racy new autobiography in tonight’s ‘Maseterpiece’ season premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge.’

A ‘Hollow Crown’ brimming with wonders

RICH00690RichardII
Ben Whishaw
One of the big events of the fall TV season arrives tonight with the PBS premiere of The Hollow Crown, a Great Performances four-week miniseries featuring lavish adaptations of a quartet of Shakespeare’s most gripping history plays.
Cast with some of Great Britain’s finest classically trained actors, Crown chronicles the turbulent rise and fall of three English Kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V – and how their reigns helped shape British history.
Tonight’s premiere features Richard II, a lesser-known play here in the States, but absolutely gripping in this film directed by Rupert Goold. Ben Whishaw, who played gadget guru Q in the James Bond blockbuster Skyfall, stars as the vain, capricious and self-centered monarch whose penchant for acting on spiteful whims is revealed almost immediately, as Richard is petitioned by a cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), to settle a dispute with Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy from Fox’s The Following).
Ultimately, Richard renders a judgment that pleases no one, banishing both men from the kingdom, although he rewards Henry’s past loyalty by sending him away for “only” six years. That’s more than enough, however, to break the heart of Henry’s elderly father, John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart), who dies soon after his son departs. Wasting no time, Richard seizes the family’s property and possessions that are Henry’s birthright, then heads to Ireland to put down a rebel uprising.
In the king’s absence, a furious Henry defies his banishment, returning to reclaim his inheritance. With the heartfelt support of allies Northumberland (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead) and the Duke of York (David Suchet, Poirot), Henry readily takes Richard prisoner and lays claim to the throne as King Henry IV.
Whishaw, who won a BAFTA Award (the British Emmy) as best actor for his role, gives a fascinating performance as this rather effete and aloof monarch, a portrayal that is mildly off-putting in his early scenes, but builds in intensity and tragic stature as Richard’s destiny takes a series of appalling turns. At two and a half hours, Richard II is the longest of these films, yet it feels the shortest, because Goold keeps things moving at such a nice clip.
H4_080212_JB0020Prince Hal
Tom Hiddleston
On Sept. 27, Henry IV, Part I finds a much older Henry, now played by Jeremy Irons, beset by myriad troubles as his reign moves into its twilight years. What really has him most worried, however, is that Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers) is sowing his wild oats with a drunken old knight named Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale, who won the BAFTA as best supporting actor) at a tavern run by Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters) instead of dutifully preparing to assume the throne. In fact, Hal’s misbehavior is causing such a scandal that a challenger to the throne, Hotspur (Joe Armstrong), is having no trouble building a coalition of supporters.
With rebels threatening the succession, Hal ultimately returns to his father’s side, but not before one of the most unforgettable comic moments in the miniseries, as Hal makes fun of his father, giving Hiddleston an excuse to show off his absolutely pitch-perfect vocal impression of the great rumbling drawl Jeremy Irons seems to favor in most of his roles these days.
In Henry IV, Part II (Oct. 4), the king’s ministers step up their efforts to drive a wedge between Hal and Falstaff, and they get their wish after Hal overhears Falstaff belittling him and catches the boozy knight in a series of lies. After Henry IV dies, Falstaff is convinced his ship finally has come in, but he is in for a rude awakening as Hal ascends the throne as King Henry V. In both films, director Richard Eyre brings to vivid life the uproarious medieval messiness of Falstaff’s world, although every now and then a scene gets so busy that we lose track of the story.
The miniseries concludes on Oct. 11 with director Thea Sharrock’s moving treatment of Henry V, which previously was adapted into critically acclaimed feature films starring Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh. Hiddleston continues in his regal role, looking every inch a king as Henry faces a series of challenges from the French monarch (Lambert Wilson). The first hour or so feels elegiac, including as it does the deaths of both Falstaff and his ne’er-do-well companion Bardolph (Tom Georgeson), but as events lead us inevitably to the high-stakes battle of Agincourt in France, the mood becomes more stirring. In the climactic moments, when Henry and his small, exhausted and bedraggled army must confront a well-rested French force five times its size, Hiddleston delivers his rallying speech to his troops thrillingly, while Sharrock frames the battle action in such a way as to make us believe there are far more soldiers on the battlefield than was actually the case.
Production values are absolutely top-notch, and the supporting cast also includes Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey), Maxine Peake and Tom Hughes of Silk, Clemence Poesy (Fleur from the Harry Potter films), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks), Lindsay Duncan (Rome) and Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By), among many others. Needless to say, I highly recommend The Hollow Crown. Be careful, though, to check your local listings, because some PBS affiliates carry their own local programming on Friday nights and will schedule Crown in a different time period.
H4_230112_JB_0121Falstaff
Julie Walters and Simon Russell Beale