Jules and Jim

Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is rightly considered a classic. Based on an autobiographical  novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the story focuses on two young men, with a deep friendship. Jules is Austrian and lives in Paris, while Jim is French. They share a way of looking at the world. Both are looking for love in 1912. When they meet Catherine, who resembles a sculpture which they view as the paragon of female beauty, they’re both struck by her spirit and openness. Jim agrees to let Jules court and marry her.

The three make a carefree group, but you just know that this arrangement won’t last forever. Catherine is capricious but didn’t fascinate me the way she did all the men who fall for her. She has no job and no interests. She’s pretty and open to life. Her spirit can be summed up when after viewing a play, they’re discussing the heroine, as Jules and Jim debate, Catherine illustrates her view of the role of women by jumping in the Seine. Fully clothed, Jim jumps in and fishes her out.

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Soon WWI breaks out and Jules and Jim fight on opposing sides, both fearing that they may shoot the other. Catherine is back at home in Germany caring for her daughter and receiving beautiful love letters from Jules. In addition to being enigmatic, Catherine struck me as a taker. There’s no mention of her writing great letters to Jules to support him while he’s fighting for his country.

After the war, the men return and soon Jim is on his way to see Jules and Catherine and their daughter Sabine. Jules confides to Jim that Catherine’s taken lovers including a man named Albert, who appears from time to time. In true European form, Jules excuses Catherine since this is her nature. He is right, but it’s exasperating watching this woman escape all responsibility and never be held to account, which would help her grow up. Perhaps if Jules, or Jim, were stronger and more of leader, though that’s not his nature, Catherine might not test him so much or get bored. It’s doubtful, but possible.

Whenever you’ve got a trio, you can bet a friend is going to start something with his pal’s wife and with Jules’ permission, Jim begins an intimate relationship with Catherine. She still has sex with Jules and Albert and probably other men we don’t see.

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It was interesting to see how Truffaut portrayed a sexy couple, or a few such relationships without a lot of nudity. I think his films are sexier with their fully dressed characters than those where the actors are buck naked.

Though I didn’t like Catherine, I did like the movie, which was masterfully paced and full of emotional surprises. Jeanne Moreau gives an outstanding performance. As I write historical drama, I found it interesting how Truffaut didn’t spend money on exquisite period costumes or settings. There are hints of the eras, but the costumes weren’t as accurate or elaborate as you see in period pieces made now.

The Criterion Collection’s DVD come with terrific bonus features including interviews with the sons of the men the story is based on and with the original “Catherine” who lived to be 96 and saw the movie before she died.

The African Queen

Like many of the films I see for my New Year’s Resolution Old Movie Challenge, The African Queen (1951) with Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is a film I’d never seen. I knew the basics that Hepburn played Rose Sayer, a straight-laced missionary and Bogart, a salty, undomesticated sailor, but I had no idea why they’d be on a journey together.

So it was news to me that Hepburn was a missionary, working in Africa with her brother who dies as a result of an attack by the Germans in WWI. The Germans burn the village down and her missionary brother goes crazy and dies from the effect. Bogart plays Mr. Allnut, who travels in a rusty boat known ironically as the African Queen, bringing mail and supplies to miners and the mission. Mr. Allnut is rough around the edges, but always polite to Rose, whom he always addresses as “Miss.” (It isn’t till halfway through the film that they find out each other’s first names.)

When Allnut sees that Miss is all alone, and vulnerable when the Germans invariably return, he takes her on to his rust bucket, the African Queen. He expects to take her to safety somehow and is shocked by her cockamamie idea that they should go along an impossibly dangerous route till they come to the lake where a German war ship is. Then she figures they can rig up some DIY torpedoes and ram the African Queen into the German ship to fight for her country, Great Britain. They’ll jump overboard at just the right moment and swim to safety.

Allnut has the sense to see the lunacy of her plan, but lacks the rhetorical skills to convince her of the futility. Has any Hepburn character ever been convinced to follow someone else’s plan?

Thus onward they go, and along the way they get drenched, barely survive the rapids and, as you’d expect, fall in love.

The film pulled me in, though at first I thought this particular pair of opposites might not attract. What I liked is that Allnut really respected Rose and that the film wasn’t a mere series of scenes where the opposites bicker. Once they’d overcome the initial obstacles, and saw each others’ strengths, they formed a real team. The main conflict was the arduous journey and finally the Germans. At times luck, rather than pluck got them through, but as Rose was a missionary, the Hand of God ought to be a force in the story.

Note:

  • Hepburn insisted the film be shot in Africa and as a result the crew endured hardship after hardship just like the characters did. See this post.
  • Someone’s bought and restored the African Queen used in the movie and you can arrange a canal or dinner cruise on it.

 

 

Dressing Downton

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The Dressing Downton exhibit has opened in Chicago at the Driehaus Museum. I’d never been to the Driehaus, but the exhibit drew me. In this restored mansion once owned by the Nickerson Family, there’s an exhibit of the costumes featured in PBS’ Masterpiece’s lavish drama Downton Abbey.

This Gilded Age mansion was the perfect venue to see costumes of the same era. With your $25 admission, you get a free audio tour, which enables you to hear not only the descriptions of the rooms, but the stories behind the costumes from the early 20th century. In several cases the costumers would find a vintage dress and embellish or restore what remained of it, which gives the clothes more authenticity.

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My friend and I savoured both the costumes and the house itself so it took about 2 hours to get through the three story house. If you drive down, you can get your parking validated so you wind up paying just $14 for 12 hours parking, which is a real deal in Chicago. The museum is holding several events such as author talks and a viewing party for the series’ finalé. I wish I could attend, but I leave for China tomorrow. Alas.

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La Grande Illusion

b3_d__0_GrandIllusionI knew that Phil Jackson would show Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion  (1937) to his players before every season, but I wasn’t sure why. (I’m still uncertain as to what he wanted his team to learn, though the film has plenty of insights.)

I didn’t know what to expect. The DVD package promised a war film, which I’m never in the mood for, but if 3:10 to Yuma was good, perhaps this would be too. Starring Jean Gabin (whom I saw in Touchez Pas au Grisbi) La Grande Illusion tells the story of French POWs in World War I. Of course, if the main characters are stuck in prison, the film’s objective must be to get them out, n’est pas? Bien sur.

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The three central characters are Gabin’s working class Maréchal, Pierre Fresnay’s blue blooded Capt. de Boeldieu and Marcel Dalio’s Lt. Rosenthal. When Maréchal is captured he’s put in a cell with de Boeldieu and Rosenthal, who shares the delicacies his family send him from France with all his comrades. Maréchal soon learns that the men have been digging a tunnel to get out. While other escapees get caught and shot, these men’s plan is thwarted as they are all moved to another prison camp just before they plan to use the tunnel.

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The three are transferred and try to escape repeatedly till they’re sent to Capt. von Rauffenstein’s camp. Played by Eric von Stroheim, von Rauffenstein is a compelling character. Throughout the film, von Rauffenstein wears a full body cast and wears white gloves to hide his burned hands. He lives in a gothic chapel that he’s oddly decorated and made into an apartment. He prides himself on running a civilized prisoner of war camp for officers, whom he treats almost like guests.

Von Rauffenstein most connects with de Boeldieu as their family trees are most on par. While de Boedleu has come to see that the old social order is dying, von Rauffenstein’s blind to that. He also can’t fathom how de Boedieu can seen any value in the working class or nouveau riche, that’s his downfall.

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From critic Peter Cowie’s essay on the Criterion Collection website:

Made just three years before World War II, it gazes back to a different era, and to a war, in the words of the director, “based on fair play, a war without atom bombs or torture.” Hitler had not appeared. “Nor,” says Renoir, “had the Nazis, who almost succeeded in making people forget that the Germans are also human beings.”

The film is simple, but compelling with fascinating characters I won’t soon forget. It unfolds effortlessly and haunts me days after I’ve seen it. I can’t wait to watch it again, next time with the commentary.

The Village

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I just watched the first episode of the British drama, The Village . Set at the beginning of WWI, it’s a naturalistic drama and sort of an “anti-Downton Abbey” focusing on a lower class family struggling against poverty and alcoholism. It’s a compelling story told by the second oldest man in Britain, who’s getting interviewed, I’m not sure by whom.

The man, Bert, looks back to his youth, when he was a schoolboy, always getting in trouble and getting beaten at home and at school by the angry, frustrated man who rules the roost, i.e. his father and his teacher. Both men take out their frustrations on all around them.

A beautiful woman comes to town and catches the attention of Bert and his older brother who works at the “big house” filling bath tubs with hot water. So far the upperclass family are snobbish with no redeeming qualities, which makes it different from Downton or Mr Selfridge where there are good and bad eggs amongst each social class.

The Village is set in a drabber world, one of browns and grays, but I am curious about what will happen now that Joe goes off to fight the Germans and Bert is alone without his protective older brother. Also, what will happen with the beautiful vicar’s daughter, who seems to be one of two people in the village who owns clothing that is — not brown, white or gray — but a muted red.

The Village , as far as I can tell, is only available on DVD.

Mr Selfridge Season 2 Finale, Part 2 Comments

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The second part of the finale in the US (or episode 10 in Britain) begins with lively conversation at the Selfridge dinner table and Rose asking everyone to count on a traditional family dinner for Thanksgiving. The girls and Harry’s mother are back and the mood is elated. Then the mopey musician, Florian, knocks on Miss Mardle’s door. He asks about why she’s ending their affair and she explains it’s age. Really, I just don’t see this earnest violist as making anyone all that happy. It seems a matter of convenience. Whoever the agency would have sent would eventually have wooed Miss Mardle.

Harry has quite a morning. First Henri learns the charges in the U.S. are all dropped so he’ll sign up to go off to war for the French. Given what he knows about how the war is really going, I’d expect Harry to sit his friend down and try to talk him out of fighting. A little later both Agnes and Victor resign as they’re getting married while George is on leave. Like last season’s finale, Harry loses a lot of those he counts on at once. He did offer Agnes the chance to stay on, which she refused. Big mistake Agnes. Though the real Selfridge seemed more conservative and didn’t hire or promote as many women as we see on the show, this chance to bend the British rules of not letting married women work should have been considered.

The Palm Court looks elegant and I wish department stores had such lovely restaurants, not only food courts. Henri goes to Victor to apologize for speaking out of turn about Agnes’ belief in George’s well being when he was missing. He also mentioned that he’s signing up for the army. I did notice that Victor didn’t apologize for grabbing Henri’s arm and almost coming to blows. This is one reason I’ve wanted Agnes to choose Henri. She was upset to learn that Henri’s off to fight. She does care.

The saddest thread of the story is Rose’s diagnosis. Her doctor tells her her condition is fatal. We don’t get all the details. We just get stunned as she does. The scene in the doctor’s office is short and well done. Just enough to convey the severity and provide tension.

George is overwhelmed by his colleagues as the flock around him when he visits the store. They mean well, but a mob is not what he needs. Gordon saves George saying that he should go talk with his father. I wish Henri and Gordon, who’s so keen to serve, sat in on this talk. George describes refers to the horrors of war. News and letters are censored so the public’s in the dark about the truth. It’s still a bit oblique. I wish he’d gone into more detail since we don’t see actual battle scenes. That could have been more powerful. By the end, George has inspired the store’s new displays “The Comforts of Home” about all the things that keep the soldiers going. Agnes’ swan song.

Continue reading “Mr Selfridge Season 2 Finale, Part 2 Comments”

Catching Up: Mr Selfridge Episode 8

Harry returns, the press descends

Harry’s back!

May 4th Americans saw Harry Selfridge return to chaos at home. Loxley has framed him for a scandal with the military procurement committee so it looks like he profited by getting the Brits shoddy boots for their soldiers. Not a word of truth in that, but no one will believe him and only The Times prints his side of the story. On top of that, Henri LeClair is being held at the American Embassy since he’s suspected of embezzlement.

Harry bravely enters his store through the front past the vultures or journalists await. He’s determined to face things head on. The store’s dead. Few customers want to shop in a store with this black cloud hanging over it and raving protesters outside accosting all who enter.

Till now I hadn’t realized how many fresh flowers there were in the store. How lovely! I grow more nostalgic each week.

Lady Mae is at a posh hotel with her maid, who informs her that her bank draft was refused and the hotel wants its money. Mae plans to sell the jewels she stored in the safe deposit box. Married to Lord Loxley, she should have store more and loads of cash for years in banks all over the city if possible.

Snake in the grass, Delphine, who I think is worse that Mr Thackeray, visits Rose to get the scoop on Harry’s return and to offer to cheer Harry up with “stardust,” i.e. a dash of Hollywood. Rose handles her perfectly. She’s friendly, but skeptical in a way that’s not rude, but sincerely shows that Delphine’s help with Harry isn’t needed. Rose isn’t going to stop Delphine’s plan, which shows confidence in Harry and in herself.

With friends like these, Rose . . .

Harry debriefs Bill Summertime apprising him of how met with a German manufacturer who’ll help the Brits and mentioning how the Germans questioned him for hours and ransacked his room. Bill offers little appreciation and no help whatsoever with the problem with the boot scandal.

Harry does speak to his staff assuring them that Frank wrote a pack of lies and that he’d get to the bottom of this. Neither Frank nor Rose have had great luck with friends in London.

Continue reading “Catching Up: Mr Selfridge Episode 8”

mr selfridge, recap & comments

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The opening this Mr. Selfridge episode with the removal of all German products was a great way to show the patriotism and anti-German sentiment of the day.

Poor Franco, Victor’s dashing brother, got rejected when the brown-haired girl at the cosmetics counter wouldn’t go out with him because her father forbids her to date “foreign” men. Mind you Franco was born in Britain. Seems she could have been more diplomatic.

The weasel-y Thackery spies outside the store to see what Henri’s up to. He disapproves of Henri’s hat, a Hamburg, though we learn that during the war they were renamed. Agnes was still upset with Henri, who does owe her an apology for being so abrupt and rude the day before.

At home Harry finishes an early morning interview with his reporter friend Frank. Harry makes it clear that he disapproves of the U.S. profiting from war by selling to both the Germans and British. I do agree and didn’t realize we did that. We also learn from Rose that Americans are hurrying home to the U.S.

Gordon, who’s now promoted to the tea department, is getting friendly with Miss Calthorpe, the young lady who’s training him. They do make a good couple and he’s gallant enough to buy her sister a beautiful doll after remembering something she mentioned in passing.

In a department meeting Kitty manages to take a compliment and turn it around to put down all the other department heads. I enjoy her lack of self-knowledge and her usually harmless egotistical quips that just make her look silly in spite of herself. Miss Mardle’s heavy sigh said it all. I love how the shows humor surfaces from Kitty, Mr. Crabb and sometimes Mr. Grove’s little blunders. Harry shares a nice moment with Miss Mardle encouraging her to enjoy her money. Yes, live a little, Miss Mardle. “Your brother would have wanted it.”

At the Loxley house, Lord L slinked into Lady L’s room while she’s preparing her toilette. He’s discovered signs she has a lover and tsk-tsks her in his cold-blooded fashion. He certainly is part reptile. You realize he minimally cares about her. No passion, no anger. It’s all about control. He’s somehow gotten the key to her door. God knows why she let that out of her sight. She’s missed a beat and that’s not like her. She’s quite sad and I think rather fearful that this abusive man has taken her key. I would say she should get another lock tout suite.

Next Bill Summertime (yes, that’s his name) barges in on Harry at work and proposes he help the war effort by spying for the secret service. Harry’s non-committal but will think it over. This could get very interesting and does.

Kitty secures a dinner invitation from Frank who breezes into the store to show Harry his article. Talk about a quick turn around. Seems the interview was before work. When Miss Mardle kindly advises Kitty to be wary of Frank, the known philanderer, Kitty again puts her in her place with a snide personal jibe. If you only knew, Kitty. Miss Mardle has enjoyed a man’s company, just the wrong man’s company –or way too long up till 5 years ago more or less. She knows whereof she speaks.

Thackery throws some barbs Henri’s way. He brings up his Hamburg and notes that his shoes are also made in Germany. Talk about obsessed. Henri brushes off both comments and tells Thackery to dress the mannequins properly. Yes, Thackery, keep your mind on your work. Your department’s slipping. I do wish we could see some of Thackery’s underlings. I imagine many would aim for transfers or quit with regularity.

Harry tells Frank that he’s not at all interested in the procurement committee and that he doesn’t trust Loxley in the least. (Note this for next week, folks.)

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Delphine receives a huge shipment of liquor from Harry, which she takes as a sign. The cogs in her head go full throttle and we can tell she’s got Harry in her sights. Poor, Rose. Who needs such “friends”? I’m guessing Harry is just generous. There’s no sign (yet) that he’s got an interest in Delphine, who fancies herself an expert in men and believes the lie that “I understand him so much better than his wife.” Moreover, she’s distancing herself from Rose, reflecting her invitations with feeble excuses. Yes, it’s easier to seduce a man’s husband if you aren’t friends with her. Though it seemed that Jim was sweet on Delphine and wise enough to suggest that perhaps Delphine doesn’t understand Harry. He was just way too subtle for Delphine.

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Mr. Thackery slithered into Mr. Grove’s office insinuating that Msgr. LeClair is a spy because he looked unkempt and seems secretive. It’s clear that Mr. Groves is just annoyed, but now has to speak with Henri.

Speaking of Henri, in a memorable scene outside the store he is with Agnes, who wears a lovely embroidered jacket. A discussion of whether Agnes could do better than the honest, hardworking Victor leads to her asking him about his secrets. Henri behaves very French-ly (Frenchesque?) and reflects her questions and rebuffs her. She’s saved by Victor’s entrance and he escorts her off to a night of fun at a variety show.

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The show was fun and Miss Mardle and Florian, the Belgian border join Victor and Agnes. (Odd that Victor didn’t mention the male boarder at the store where the news could travel. Was he sworn to secrecy? How does he feel about the “arrangement”?) Back stage Mae asks Richard Chapman, the singer to perform at the Selfridge patriotic concert. She remembers her days on the stage as a popular entertainer when men would lie at her feet in swarms apparently. Richard’s an old friend and Mae soon shares that she’s made a terrible decision, that staying with Lord Loxley is hell. She’s funny, honest, vulnerable and wise.

Gordon surprises Miss Calthorpe with the gift of a doll for her sister, who has few toys. So sweet.

As Henri goes up to see Mr. Groves about Thackery’s troublesome speculations, Agnes hangs up his coat in a way that suggests she’s not over him. I wanted her to go through his pockets in search of clues about his secret. How terrible of me.

Rather than tell Mr. Groves what he’s been up to Henri announces he’s going to hand in his notice. At first it seems like another rash decision just like the end of season 1, but perhaps he is wise. He’s hiding something and did warn Harry that his return to the store wouldn’t be good for anyone. Such cloak and dagger stuff, Henri. What are you up to? I believe and hope there’s a perfectly reasonable, even honorable explanation.

(Grégory Fitoussi’s characters land in jail a lot. Poor Pierre from Spiral, a.k.a. Engrenage was in a terrible fix. Check it out on Netflix. Warning – that French police show is gritty, violent, but the acting is superb.)

After getting a bank loan to reopen his uncle’s restaurant, Victor proposes to Agnes. He thinks it’d be great for them to marry and run the restaurant together. Well, Agnes accepts, so I suppose she is done with Mr. LeClair, but run a restaurant? When you could continue with your career at Selfridges? Agnes, really?

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The show ends with a riveting sequence of scenes cutting between the concert, where Richard brings Mae on stage much to Lord Loxley’s extreme displeasure, to Henri’s search for Harry, who’s been whisked off to Germany to spy, to Henri’s arrest for espionage. The action and cuts from each scene to the next were powerful, some of the best television has offered.

Viewers were left stunned, waiting for more and the next episode is sure to deliver. Do not miss it.

Drama like this is rare and I hope the Mr Selfridge writer is wise enough to stick with WWI for more than one season.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2, Episode 3

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In the third episode of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Delphine Day (Polly Walker)organizes a card game with some of the influential movers and shakers she knows including Harry and Lord Loxley. It’s wonderful to see the smug Loxley lose to Harry.

People are coming to terms with the war. Agnes receives a letter from her brother George and though it’s been redacted he seems chipper. Miss Mardle takes in a Belgian refugee. She expects Florian to be a woman’s name, but it turns out that her refugee is a young man, a rather innocent and attractive Belgian. If he brings any chocolate into the house, she’ll be putty in his hands. This mix up is rather weak. Of course, Miss Mardle could arrange to have a woman live with her and someone else could take in Mr. Florian.

I’m worried about Henri who’s very mysterious this episode. His secret life remains so, to a larger extent. He’s giving lots of money to a suspicious looking man, who’s supposed to track a woman down for him. Since he’s gotten on Mr. Thackery’s bad side, Thackery follows him around town looking for dirt. Henri had best watch out. My guess is that while the problem may not be innocent it’s not as bad as it seems. Thackery expects that Henri is a German spy. Poppycock, Thackery. Poppycock.

Things are looking up for Lady Loxley as her husband’s finances are going up since he’s getting kick backs for army procurement deals. She’s been authorized to get a new wardrobe. It’s a pity that Mr. Thackery just couldn’t pick up on the newer trends. All he could show her seemed dated, though I thought the gowns were stunning, just not right for wartime.

Rose was used nicely in this episode. She saved the day as the store must employ women in the warehouse. Their garments made work nearly impossible. No one at the store really knew what to do, but Rose stepped in and figured it all out. Later when Mr. Crab organized shooting practice for store employees, Rose impressed her son Gordon with her expertise. I love seeing these new facets of hers and I’m glad to see she and Harry’s marriage is improving. Yet I do fear Daphne is up to something with Harry. She was needlessly secretive about the card game when she saw Rose.

All in all, the season’s shaping up nicely. The new characters are intriguing, though troublesome and having the mother and girls away makes the cast size more manageable for the writer. I don’t miss Miss Love at all or Harry’s philandering. While that will no doubt return, I’m glad the show isn’t all about infidelity and illicit romance. The show had a sleazier streak last season, which I’m not missing.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridge’s is about to celebrate its firth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose, Gordon and Frank all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have.

It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridge’s and work with her lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

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The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villians this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss P whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me it. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.