The Paradise Returns to BBC 1

Source: telegraph.co.uk

With the explosion of period dramas such as Downton Abby, there was a time when I believe I was the only one in the country - if not the world - who didn't get the hype (that could be because I’ve never actually sat through an entire episode, but we’ll just ignore that). Don’t get me wrong, I do love me a bit of historical television, but for some reason I was never drawn to Downton. Then, with a flash of monochrome paisley and rigid corsets came The Paradise, a 19th century period drama that not only won me over with the casting (HELLO Emun Elliott), but enticed me with the lavish costumes, charming setting, and rather intriguing story line.

The Paradise is set in Victorian England and is based around the growth of Britain’s first ever department store. Ex drapers boy and widower John Moray (Elliott) dreams of owning a successful business which results in the expansion of a small shop into a rather large retailer where prestigious ladies and gentlemen can purchase the finest silks, jewellery and china all in one place. This business venture (funded by Lord Glendenning, whose daughter Katherine is desperate to marry Moray) begins causing problems for the neighbouring smaller shops, and tensions between the shop owners start showing. In comes witty, smart and beautiful Denise, whose modern approach and creative vision has Moray captivated and the other shop girls envious, including Katherine. Confused? You will be. In between all this kerfuffle we have a little bit of a romance, a little bit of secrecy, and a hell of a lot of female bitching (a bit like a Victorian version of Mean Girls, if you ask me).

Following the rather happy and romantic ending of the first series, and with rather mixed reviews from the press (one even saying that Emile Zola, the author of A Bonheur des Dames which is what The Paradise is based on, would turn in his grave), I didn't expect the BBC to renew the show for a second year. However, it seems that the 5 million it managed to pull in during its debut episode didn't go unnoticed, and series two is set to begin at the end of October. As much as I praise the show for its lavish costumes and embellished sets, some of the characters are slightly flat and unconvincing. Joanna Vanderham who plays Denise very rarely flashes a smile and has frequent bouts of intense staring (I still love her though) while her uncle Edmund, although simply adorable, just didn't have the authenticity that you search for in a character. The wonderful Sarah Lancashire’s Miss Audrey however, is one who brings both humour and vulnerability – having never married, her clear unfulfillment in life is shrouded by her enthusiasm and utmost dedication to The Paradise. It’s a shame she will be leaving the show half way through the second series.  

So yes, The Paradise is cheesy if not sometimes pantomimic, and I don’t think it has what it takes to knock Downton off the top, but does every period drama have to aim to be the biggest and best? Perhaps, this time, it’s simply for the escapism, the entertainment, and the frocks, dahling. 

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