THE SHOW: The Paradise on Masterpiece Classic
THE CAST: Joanna Vanderham, Emun Elliott, Matthew McNulty, Ruby Bentall, Elaine Cassidy, and Sarah Lancashire.
WHEN: Tuesdays 9/8c
Romance, greed, power, ambition, love, and secrets all consume BBC’s original series The Paradise. Although The Paradise already aired a year ago in Great Britain, the time has finally come for its premiere in America! Based very loosely on Emile Zola’s French novel The Ladies’ Paradise, Bill Gallagher, the creator of Lark Rise to Candleford, once again creates something original by adapting great literature into a well written, engrossing Television Series.
The story is told from the perspective of a young woman named Denise Lovett who moves from the country to the city to try and find work. When her Uncle can’t offer her any at his drapery shop because he has fallen on hard times (thanks to the new big bad department store run by a man named John Moray), Denise turns to the very same establishment to earn her keep. Immediately, she becomes a part of this new world, yearning with an ambition to succeed and impress the mysterious Moray, his wife having died under suspicious circumstances. But more than romance and mystery, this show (similar in theme to Lark Rise) explores the changing dynamic of the times with those who embrace change and those who refuse. This examining of generations as a story line further allows the writers to concentrate on the characters with great depth.
While the premise of a 19th-century department store may sound familiar (ahem Mr. Selfridge), The Paradise had been in production first and is also by far the superior series. Whereas Mr. Selfridge has insufferable, unlikeable and tedious characters, The Paradise shines with 3-dimensional ones that develop in unexpected and satisfying ways with each new episode. In all honesty, some developments really did surprise me (I won’t spoil these great moments). Another key factor in The Paradise’s superiority is the man running the department store (I could not stand Jeremy Piven in Mr. Selfridge even slightly). Moray is power hungry and ambitious but he is also a romantic figure we can root for in a Byronic kind of way.
Denise, the leading lady, works just as well as Moray with her naïve innocence in this new world that she shines brightly in the midst of the cynicism of the time. She ambitiously believes she can succeed and indeed she is written to be very intelligent and innovative, yet thankfully holds on to her vulnerability. Denise also never becomes a product of the modern day. She still is, in essence, a woman of the 19th century, one however interested in new ideas of feminism.
The supporting characters are also fantastic. From the quirky Pauline (acted by the adorable Ruby Bentall who played Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford), sweet Sam, the conniving and horrible Katherine Glendenning (her obsession with Moray is fascinating), Moray’s second hand man Dudley (Matthew McNulty played Fisher in Lark Rise), the head of the Ladies’ department Miss Audrey (her characterization is nothing short of brilliant), the envious Clara, and then the horribly creepy Jonas who works for Moray as a spy at the department store. Not one of these characters gets pushed to the side. They all have time to shine and develop. Bill Gallagher definitely does some of the best character work on television today.
If you love period dramas like Downton Abbey or appreciate a story focused on characterization, this is a series not to miss. As much as I love Downton, I like this series slightly more. I am just so drawn in by the characters and even the romance between the two leads. Their chemistry sparkles as they get drawn into their soul connection with one another, despite the barriers of class (Denise just a shop girl). If you have yet to see this series, whatever you do, make sure to tune in every Sunday night. Give yourself a treat and enter the magic and romantic allure of The Paradise.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
Masterpiece Classic’s The Paradise Trailer
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