They sacked Mr Thackeray!
Yes, Mr Selfridge series three has finally reached Sweden. Before long, I will even have the whole series on DVD. The clever, and fairest, thing would be to wait until I've seen all of it before I blog about it, but well... I don't feel up to a serious book blog post, so Mr Selfridge and various costume-drama musings it is.
As yet, Swedish Television has shown three episodes of the new series, and I confess I'm a bit underwhelmed so far. It's not just that Mr Thackeray was sacked, after fearlessly but stupidly attacking his boss (verbally, that is). I had half expected him to be written out even before series three began, but the trailer where a Thackeray scene was included raised false hopes. No, the main fault with the new series is that it's a little on the glum side. We were spared the trenches, for which much thanks, but post-war trauma and dissatisfaction play a large part in the various storylines. This new seriousness shows up the series' weakness: that the characters, though on the whole likeable enough, are not that well developed. As long as Mr Selfridge was an airy soufflé of a show, this didn't matter much. But when someone like Henri Leclair develops a war trauma of king-size proportions - not for him simply the usual flashbacks, nightmares and sensitivity to banging noises, no, he has to see the ghosts of his dead comrades in the cellar - it swamps him and the storyline he's involved in completely, and instead of sympathy you feel a slight irritation (I did, anyway). The series probably aims at gaining in poignancy what it loses in light-hearted escapism, but the calculation doesn't quite add up.
It's still nice viewing, thanks in no small part to Victor - now a hard-bitten nightclub owner - who's by far the most interesting character. Also, the shamelessly melodramatic villain Lord Loxley is good fun. He reappears snarling "I'M BACK" on the telephone to his forgiving old school chum Miles Edgerton (yes, the one he blackmailed in series two, and whose wartime supply committee was cast into disrepute because of Loxley's dealings - still, water under the bridge, old chap), and he carries on in the same style. The scenes where he hoodwinks Selfridge's spendthrift new son-in-law are especially entertaining ("Well, he certainly knows how to hold a grudge", he says deadpan on the subject of Selfridge). But the sad fact remains that, in my case, Mr Selfridge works less well as Downton methadone than it used to, because it's become even clearer how far a cry from Downton it really is.
Which brings me to the question: what's next on the costume drama front? What can we expect after Downton ends this Christmas? Yep, as those who have any interest in this series are no doubt aware, it has now been confirmed that its sixth series will be the last. My head tells me this was a wise decision, and I was much relieved when producer Gareth Neame promised that we would be told where the characters "all end up" - hurrah, no open ending! - but still, my heart is heavy. What can possibly replace Downton?
The good news is that the climate seems to be more costume-drama friendly than in a long time. When I was last in London, three costume dramas - Mr Selfridge, Poldark and Indian Summers - were being aired at the same time, nine o'clock on Sunday evening. BBC has climbed down from its high horses, as witnessed by The Musketeers, where the second series was even more unapologetically unhistoric than the first. With Peter Capaldi busy in Doctor Who, they simply killed off Richelieu, replacing him with dishy Marc Warren as Rochefort (I'm sorry to say he's a bit too deranged even for my villain-loving taste - ooh, did you see that reptilian Spanish ambassador, though?). Any similarities between this fun romp and seventeenth-century France are completely coincidental. And now, they're adapting - re-adapting - some Cornwall-placed bodice ripper with no claims on being a part of the English cultural heritage. I look forward to Poldark, but I suspect the hero will get on my nerves a great deal. He looks like one of those Heathcliffian heart-throbs who trudges through the moors glowering and tossing his black curls while snarling "you shut your mouth, woman!" to some unfortunate female. What's the appeal of rudeness, truly? Sarcasm I like, it requires some wit, but pure loutishness is another story. Still, one should not judge a costume-drama hero by his photo-ops. He may turn out to be the height of sophistication and good manners.
I had hopes for Indian Summers, and plumped for testing it when faced with my London costume-drama choice, but found the episode I watched really, really slow. The villain pin-up (as he is supposed to be, surely?) didn't find his way to doing anything villainous or anything much besides brooding. The characters didn't engage and there wasn't the consolation of Mr Selfridge's pace. After also having watched the adaptation of Jamaica Inn with Jessica Brown Findlay, which was atmospheric but did not move forward particularly fast, I'm getting worried that the lesson we learned from costume dramas in the Noughties - pace it up a bit, as shown in Bleak House and Little Dorrit - is getting unlearned again. But I shouldn't be alarmist. Sooner or later, as long as the costume-drama boom holds, something new and exciting will turn up, even perhaps something with a memorable villain in it. Things aren't looking half as gloomy as they did only a few years ago. But something to rival Downton? Chance would be a fine thing.