It seems that in terms of costume dramas, there are always two with similar themes that come along at once, for example Downton Abbey was the surprise upstairs/downstairs drama of 2010 and became a lot more popular than the reboot of Upstairs Downstairs itself. Now department stores are the big thing with ITV1 launching their drama Mr Selfridge in the near future, tonight we get to see BBC1’s Victorian-age shopping drama in The Paradise.
The Paradise is set in 1875 and stars Joanna Vanderham as Denise Lovatt a small-town girl who comes to the big city, which I’m presuming is somewhere in Yorkshire, to work in her uncle’s haberdashery shop. However when she arrives her uncle Edmund informs her that many of the smaller shops in the street have been put out of business by the expanding department store of the title. Edmund gives us an expositional speech in which we learn that The Paradise used to be known as Emerson’s and when Emerson died it passed on to his daughter and her husband Mr Moray who runs the store today. The circumstances in which Moray’s wife died are one of the bigger mysteries of the series with her supposedly perishing during the renovation of the store itself however there are several different versions of events floating around. As Denise wants to pay her way during her time in the city she goes to The Paradise in order to get a job in women’s clothing but is laughed at by awful counter-girl Clara while Sarah Lancashire’s head of department Miss Audrey is also less than impressed with Denise’s references. Luckily Moray discovers that she is Edmund’s niece and gives her a job partly to spite her uncle who believes that half of the street has been eaten up by The Paradise and constantly vows revenge throughout this opening episode.
Edmund might not have to worry too much though as Moray is having financial difficulties wanting an investor in his store he turns to the father of his current lover Katherine in order to get the money. This is easier set than done though, as Lord Glendenning isn’t that convinced that selling perfume and petticoats will make any type of money. To win over Glendenning, Moray decides to buy more stock that he can afford in order to fill the store to the brim and put on a massive one day sale that will have the women flock in from miles away. Moray’s idea doesn’t sit too well with his financially-minded colleague Mr Dudley, played by the always great Matthew McNulty, who goes behind his back to inform the suppliers that they may not be paid. Though Moray is courting Katherine it seems that he has tendency to sleep with his shop-girls at least once and this information is passed onto Denise via Moray’s shady adviser Jonas, who tells her that one day the boss will call her into the office and that she should ‘be ready’. Moray it seems has already had his wicked way with both Clara and the girl Denise replaced who has since been thrown out on the street for fraternising with the boss.
From a production design point-of-view The Paradise is exquisitely put together with every detail in place to make the store look as convincing as possible. As soon as Denise enters the store you know that a lot of thought has gone into the setting up of every different department especially the lady’s fashion area where the majority of the action is set. In addition I also thought the cramped quarters in which all the staff stay, which I’m sure makes it harder to enforce that no relations with colleagues rule, were also well designed as the small corridors and shared rooms allow for more drama to take place. As this is also a drama about clothing all the costumes have been carefully chosen from the uniforms that Miss Audrey’s girls wear to the classier attire that Katherine and her snooty friends wear.
The problem I had with the programme that I just failed to connect with any of the characters namely our two central figures in Moray and Denise. It seems that Moray is the stereotypical tortured soul unable to move on from the tragic and unexpected death of his wife who is also full of ambition but at the end of the day comes across as a bit of an arrogant figure. The fact that Moray can sleep with any of the female staff members he wants is a little bit far-fetched plus I found it quite harsh that these girls lose their jobs if they are caught in bed with him. Emun Elliot, also doesn’t do much to make you care about his character and after episode one I wasn’t really that bothered if The Paradise stayed open or not. Similarly Joanna Vanderham’s performance as wide-eyed ambitious Denise did little to make me warm to her character who is one that we’ve seen in dramas like this many times before. As we see she has made an impression on Moray straight away and her eye for detail will obviously see her advance in the coming weeks while also wanting to become an entrepreneur herself just like him. It seems to me that the Scottish Vanderham is also struggling to put on the strong Yorkshire accent that is required of her character and this was also slightly off-putting whenever she was on screen.
I did warm to some of the supporting characters though namely the always reliable Sarah Lancashire who made Miss Audrey a work-obsessed spinster who’d put all her time into her career so therefore had never married. Lancashire makes for a convincing figure and I feel that she’s also the most interesting of the characters on show so I’m hoping we get to learn a little more of her backstory as the weeks draw on. I also thought David Hayman was incredibly creepy as Jonas as he lurked in the shadows most of the time informing Moray of any underhanded tactics that were going on and writing them in his little notepad. Finally the ubiquitous Peter Wight also impressed as the jealous Edmund wanting to put The Paradise out of business and due to the fact Moray is a reckless spender he might just be able to do it.
I think my problem with The Paradise is just isn’t for me and a drama in which one of the pivotal scenes involves the trying on of a dress just seems a little too frivolous for my tastes. To be fair this first episode did have to cram in a hell of a lot of information by introducing over a dozen characters as well as setting up the relationships for the future instalments. The show isn’t without promise thanks to a decent supporting cast and some wonderful production design however Elliot and Vanderham really did nothing to make me warm to their characters. It seems then I might after wait to check out ITV’s period shopping saga Mr Selfridge because unfortunately this opening instalment of The Paradise just didn’t impress me all that much.
Did you watch The Paradise? If so did you enjoy more than I did? Leave Your Comments Below.