The Weekend’s Viewing: But will we discover how the store came to lose its apostrophe?
Mr Selfridge, Sun, ITV1 // Tankies: Tank Heroes of World War Two, Sun, BBC2
Are you glutted by shopping now? It would hardly be surprising. With the pre-Christmas potlatch frenzy seamlessly stitched to the post-Christmas sale stampede, even the most dedicated acquisitor tends to flag a little at this time of year.
ITV will be hoping you can summon up a little appetite, though, because it has a heroic tale for us – the story of a pioneer who battled hidebound tradition and social prejudice to bring the world something new. Naturally, his mission isn’t without its setbacks. “There’s always prejudice against anything that’s new,” says his wife consolingly when she discovers him momentarily cast down. And naturally the guttering flame of ambition reignites, as it always does in biopics about the great innovators of history: “They said we couldn’t do it... but we are going to prove them wrong!” our hero promises his adoring disciples, as they ready themselves for a critical moment. And the ultimate object of this epic endeavour? Powered flight? Penicillin? The NHS? No. Just a bigger, flashier department store.
Selfridges, in fact, brainchild of Mr Selfridge and the subject, a little astoundingly, of a new 10-part drama series from Andrew Davies. How he’s going to fill all that airtime, I’m not sure, but perhaps a later episode will reveal the dramatic tale of how the store came to lose its apostrophe. In the meantime, we have to be brought up to speed with exactly what faces Mr Selfridge as he struggles to jolt London retail into the early 20th century. The action begins in Gamages, as he tries to coax a shopgirl into showing him more than one pair of gloves at a time. Alarmed by this breach of retail protocol, a floor-walker intervenes. “What if I said I was just looking?” asks Mr Selfridge. “This is a shop, sir, not an exhibition,” replies the floor-walker witheringly. Mr Selfridge smiles knowingly. He has hired Henri Leclair, a Monet of retail display, to do his windows and knows it is all about putting on a show.
Jeremy Piven plays Mr Selfridge, as a blend of Barnum self-promotion and intermittent humanising moments of uncertainty. He’s from the spend-now, worry-later school of business, but after an early investor is frightened off by his brashness, he has to track down new finance with the help of a salonnière called Lady Mae, who communicates almost entirely in sultry double entendres. While he drums up capital, flutters through preparation montages and flirts with a music-hall star called Ellen Love, various shopgirls and salesmen shuffle into place to provide the Downstairs counterpart to management’s Upstairs intrigues. If you saw The Paradise, the BBC’s pre-emptive strike on the retail melodrama market, you’ll know precisely what to expect. And if you don’t care a lot about shopping, you’re not really likely to give a damn, since mercantile ambition seems to be pretty much the beginning and the end of Mr Selfridge’s psychology. At one point, you see him lining up Love to be a glamour ambassador for the new store, blazing a trail for our world of celebrity endorsement and product placement. And as you watch him at work, it’s hard not to think, “Fail, you bastard, fail!”
Mark Urban’s Tankies: Tank Heroes of World War Two offered a true historical pivot and instances of real courage, telling the stories of six members of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment as they fought through the Second World War. It was a story that began ignobly, with a shambolic retreat from advancing Panzers in France in 1940. But then the regiment got better tanks, better leadership and a better sense of what battle really meant, and played a decisive part in turning the tide at El Alamein. “We gave them a good hiding,” said one veteran. The documentary properly alerted you to the horror that actually lay behind that softening euphemism.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West