It may be set in the early 1900s, in a department store selling ladies clothes and underwear, but in series one and two of Mr Selfridge, based on the story of controversial American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, the lavish ITV drama covered adultery, theft, domestic abuse, spiritualism, blackmail and self-sacrifice, as well as all the internal politics and schemings of any busy workplace. Indeed, part of the charm of the series is the juxtaposition of small concerns - who might get promoted? Who fancies whom? Did someone tamper with the till? - with far larger ones, themes of Empire and society.
Historical figures wander in and out - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Shackleton, King Edward VII and Churchill have all put in appearances - which can be a hideous clanger in this type of drama (instead of the frisson of reality, the appearance of historical characters can simply expose the sheer unlikeliness of the whole thing), but works effortlessly here. Because for all the glamour - and this is a very polished drama indeed - and dramatic licence, the series never entirely sacrifices period accuracy and authenticity to plot. Or smart social observations to the froth of social interactions. Part, at least, of the point of the series is to show the circumscribed realities of the lives of men and women during an era where freedom was a deliberately limited concept, and it is this, just as much as the beautiful hats and romantic mishaps, that makes it interesting.
Kate Brooke, who wrote Ice Cream Girls and Making of a Lady, is back as the lead writer, working alongside West-of-Ireland-born Kate O'Riordan, author of several novels, including The Boy In The Moon, as well as TV dramas The Bad Mother's Handbook and The Kindness of Strangers. Asked who her favourite character in the series was, Kate said, "Harry himself because he comes across as such an endearing albeit flawed character. And Agnes Towler whom he hires at the beginning and we track her progress from ingenue to talented member of staff."
Last season was dominated by the looming horror of World War I - with the off-screen action, the mud and blood of Flanders, clearly felt despite not being seen - and issues of women's suffrage. Season three skips forward to 1919, and, according to series executive producer Kate Lewis, the story will resume, rather satisfactorily we feel, at "the point at which his [Harry's] life really begins to unravel".
War is over, Rose Selfridge, Harry's estranged wife, played by the brilliant Frances O'Connor, and diagnosed with lung congestion at the end of series two, is dead. Selfridge's daughters, played by sisters Kara and Hannah Tointon, (both above, with Alana Boden) are now grown-up and, in the case of Rosalie at least, ready for marriage. Her wedding, to Russian prince Serge de Bolotoff, introduces Marie de Bolotoff, Serge's mother, played by the wonderful Zoe Wanamaker (My Week With Marilyn, Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone), who will doubtless bring an injection of energy and wit. Meanwhile, sister Violette, has plenty of scope for her rebellious streak.
Arch enemy Lord Loxley is back, divorced now from Lady Mae, but still determined to do Harry down. "He took what was mine," he snarls in the series shree trailer, clearly getting ready for revenge.
The charm of the series is the weaving of historical with fantasy, social conscience with society glamour, upstairs with downstairs, old world with new; a sort of all-of-human-life-is-here panoply, along with gorgeous hats and coats, silk stockings, leather gloves, elaborate hair styles, and the impeccable manners of the era.
Series Three of Mr Selfridge starts Sunday January 25 at 9pm on UTV Ireland and UTV
Sunday Indo Living