Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Paradise -- Series 1 (2012)

On the similar path as Mr. Selfridge, The Paradise is another show about a store that came out around the same time as Mr. Selfridge. I've seen around the period drama blogging world that people who have seen both Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise usually prefer one over the other. While I did enjoy the business aspect of Mr. Selfridge, it simply wasn't the best period drama I've seen since the main character was hard to sympathize with (here's my review of Mr. Selfridge if you're interested). Was there a chance that I could prefer The Paradise over Mr. Selfridge? Yes, and I proceeded to find out a couple of weeks ago.
DVD Box Art

Denise Lovett arrives at her uncle's drapery shop looking for work. When her uncle, Edmund Lovett, cannot give her work, Denise seeks out a position at The Paradise, the growing department store across the street, much to the chagrin of her uncle who thinks that The Paradise is driving small businesses into bankruptcy. Denise earns a position in the ladies' wear department and immediately excels at her job and shines in the eye of her employer, Mr. Moray, a man with a troubled past.

I'm suspicious: it's as if they took the cast of Lark Rise to Candleford and put them in a new period drama... Okay, not the entire cast. But most of the cast members that I recognized in The Paradise were from Lark Rise to Candleford. There were actors in there from other period dramas, but the majority of other period drama actors were from Lark Rise to Candleford.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Matthew McNultyDudleyLark Rise to Candleford as Fisher Bloom
Peter WightEdmund LovettLark Rise to Candleford as Old Amos, Persuasion (2007) as Admiral Croft
Sarah LancashireMiss AudreyLark Rise to Candleford as Adult Laura Timmins (narration)
Ruby BentallPaulineLark Rise to Candleford as Minnie Mude
Arthur DarvilleBradley BurroughsLittle Dorrit (2008) as Tip Dorrit
David BamberCharles ChisholmPride and Prejudice (1995) as Mr. Collins
Olivia HallinanJocelin BrookmireLark Rise to Candleford as Laura Timmins

See what I mean? Besides having a chunk of the cast from Lark Rise to Candleford in The Paradise, it also has a similar feel as Lark Rise to Candleford. Sure, The Paradise can be more serious at times, but many of the characters in The Paradise have a similar counterpart in Lark Rise to Candleford.

Denise (center) wearing a dress her uncle, Edmund Lovett (left)
made for her.
Let's start with Denise since she is the main character. In a way, Denise is similar to Laura Timmins in Lark Rise to Candleford: she comes from the country to the city (or in Laura's case, the town of Candleford) to learn a new job. Denise, however, has more of a mind for business and for looking for ways to make The Paradise better. She is a likable character who is bright, innocent, and hard working (again, much like what Laura was like at the beginning of Lark Rise to Candleford). It was very enjoyable to watch her thinking up new ideas for The Paradise, and I felt bad for her when Miss Audrey told her to have no more ideas. Sure, Denise would occasionally make a mistake, but she was able to think of a way out of her first mistake. For the most part, Denise had good ideas; she will definitely go far at The Paradise.

Miss Audrey
Miss Audrey, head of ladies' wear and Denise's supervisor, is similar to Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford, except that I liked Dorcas a lot more than Miss Audrey. Miss Audrey grated on my nerves a bit. I know that she is head of the department and has to keep order, but the fact that she puts down Denise's attempts to shine didn't sit well with me. Spoiler As it turned out, Miss Audrey was threaten by Denise because Denise was young and had the ability to run the department well while Miss Audrey was getting older. So, she was putting Denise down in order to maintain her job security. End of Spoiler She does exhibit a caring side towards the end of the series which does soften her character from the strict exterior. Despite her personality flaws, she does make an excellent head of ladies' wear.

Pauline, Sam, and Arthur
There are also the other staff members at The Paradise that are an interesting addition to the show. The main staff members that we see are shopgirls Clara and Pauline, Sam (a salesclerk), and Arthur (a messenger boy who was born at The Paradise back when it was called Emerson's). Pauline is the most likable out of the other shopgirls. She isn't the best shopgirl in the store (she is a bit clumsy... kind of like Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford, but then again, they are played by the same actress), but she is a sweet character who is hard not to like. Then there's Clara, who was constantly looking out only for her best interests. She is immediately threatened by Denise and tries to make things hard for her at The Paradise. She is a very competitive shopgirl that will stop at nothing to make commission. Her past does reveal why she behaves the way that she does, so she can be a sympathetic character. Sam is the personable, salesclerk that attempts to flirt with Denise early in the series; though she turns him down, they remain good friends. He is a humorous character who knows how to talk to customers.

Dudley (left) congratulating Katherine Glendenning
and Moray
A major part of the story is about Mr. Moray and is courtship to Katherine Glendenning, daughter or Lord Glendenning, a banker who is a backer for The Paradise. Moray is a widower who is living with guilt over his wife's death. Though despite that guilt, he is a charismatic entrepreneur that is always thinking about new ideas to push The Paradise forward. From the start of the series, it is very apparent that he has a fondness for Denise and throughout the series go to her for new ideas to bring more customers into The Paradise. The story does turn into a love triangle Spoiler when Moray and Denise fall in love all the while Moray was pre-engaged to Katherine End of Spoiler, but then what period drama would be complete without some form of love triangle?

Katherine Glendenning
Katherine is a character who can be a sympathetic character at the beginning of the story, but then she becomes an outright jealous character that you were surprised you even remotely liked. At the beginning of the series, she wanted to marry Moray because she loved him, but her father didn't approve of him. Moray was also reluctant to get involved with an engagement because he felt guilty over his wife's death. Katherine wanted Moray to get over his wife, but Moray still had so much guilt. Then she started seeing another man and tried to break it off with Moray: okay until you find out that she only saw the second guy to toy with Moray to make him jealous. Spoiler Then when they finally do get engaged and Moray realizes that he loves Denise and wants to end the engagement, Katherine attempts to force him to marry her by threatening Denise. By the end when Moray jilts her at the altar, you don't really feel all that sorry for her. End of Spoiler And she doesn't even just toy with Moray: she will use anyone if it's to her advantage and then drop them when they are no longer useful to her.

Inside The Paradise
One of the things that BBC does well is that they have great scenery in their period dramas. The Paradise is no exception. Though The Paradise is located in the city, there are some scenes that take place in the country since the Glendennings live on a country estate (after all, it wouldn't be a period drama without at least one country estate). Most of the scenes take place in or around The Paradise store. The inside of the store is very colorful and bright where the customers are. There are also some scenes that take place where the staff eats and sleeps in The Paradise's building: those areas aren't as nicely decorated as the store itself, however, but are kept up well and shows that Mr. Moray does care about his employees.

I've gone back and forth on what era the story is supposed to take place in based on costuming. Since bustles are used by the customers of The Paradise, the story would have taken place either between 1869 and 1876 or between 1883 and 1890. Now, since the fashionable ladies' skirts are trained and the day dresses don't have the high, stiff neckline that was popular in the 1880s, I'm more inclined to believe the story takes place between 1869 to 1876. The only thing that confuses me on that is that the shopgirls' uniforms and Miss Audrey's dress has a very high neckline, but since the fashionable ladies' dresses are more accurate to the popular fashions of the period, I'm going to go with their dresses than the shopgirls dresses in picking the time period. But anyways, the costumes in The Paradise are very nicely done! There is a range of costume richness: there are wealthy ladies costumes as well as working ladies costumes, all of which are nicely done.

Out of all of the characters in the show, Katherine Glendenning is the best dressed in the show. Since she (or rather her father) is wealthy, she can afford to dress in the latest fashions. Her clothes are reportedly not from The Paradise, but rather are from her personal seamstress (she mostly just goes to The Paradise to see Moray).

Denise and Clara in their shopgirl uniforms
The shopgirls have two sets of clothes: their uniform, which is a high necked dress with a little brocade jacket over it, and their personal wardrobe, which seems to reflect the popular fashions of the day but with cheaper material than the fashionable ladies (like cotton dresses rather than silk). Their personal wardrobes come out in the evening when the shopgirls go out to the pub to have a drink (by the way, I was astonished at how much those girls would go out drinking, but I digress). Clara's personal wardrobe was quite low cut at times, however, which I wasn't sure how accurate that would have been (since she doesn't make a lot of money, she would probably only have day wear to wear in the evening, and her tops would show more than I would have thought for Victorian day wear).

Burroughs, what are you wearing?
The business men tended to wear the same things: suit, vest, trousers, a hat for going outside. There is a distinction made when Burroughs, a barber who Moray bought a shop off of, becomes a junior partner in the business. Burroughs wanted to wear a suit like all the successful businessmen, so he got himself a suit. I know plaid was popular at some point during the Victorian Era, but a distinction was made with Moray and his business partner, Dudley, wearing solid color clothes (which looked nice and professional), and Burroughs (looking rather like a used car salesman) wearing a loud plaid suit. It was probably to show something about his character, but it did draw my attention.

Overall: 4.5/5
This is a great start to a wonderful series! And it's safe to say that I preferred The Paradise over Mr. Selfridge. While Mr. Selfridge had more unexpected twists and turns, it was harder to like the characters (well, for me at least). In The Paradise, it was easy to find a set of characters that I liked while still having an interesting story line. The costumes are lively and fun to look at, and the scenery is something not to be overlooked. This series has kind of a cliffhanger ending, but it still feels complete (Spoiler the series sends with Moray and Denise in an embrace while Katherine puts on her wedding veil and is about to leave her home to marry Moray, presumably to be jilted at the altar End of Spoiler). If you are a fan of Lark Rise to Candleford, I would definitely recommend that you check out The Paradise; in fact, Bill Gallagher, the creator of this show, also worked on Lark Rise to Candleford as a writer and producer, which could explain the similar feel. Even if you haven't seen Lark Rise to Candleford, I would still say check out this show. It's definitely a good period drama.

Most questionable content in this show is pretty minimal and is mostly implied. There are some implications between two unmarried people, the girl telling one of the girls bluntly while the man used more veiled language when mentioning it to another man. There are some excessive kissing scenes that are a little uncomfortable, but aren't horribly inappropriate. A man drowns and another man has flashbacks about it. Some of the ladies bodices are low cut. That's about it for content. I would say the show is TV-PG as a personal opinion.

The Paradise is available on both Blu-Ray and DVD. The eight episodes in this series are 60 minutes long each.


  1. Glad you enjoyed this series, Elizabeth. At first, I "liked" if fine but wasn't impressed because it felt WAY too similar to Lark Rise (understandable since the same creator/writer was involved) and as you say, seemed like it was simply put in a new setting. However as the series progressed, I was "blown away" by its twists and unique perspectives - plus the costumes were gorgeous. S2 is good also though a bit more content prone.

  2. I was attracted to this one because of the costumes, but I didn't know if it would be appropriate or not...I knew a bit about Mr. Selfridge and didn't think I'd be the kind of story I'd like, so I guess I just lumped it and the Paradise together since they were both about department stores :) I might try watching this one.

  3. I thought the costumes were lovely but, like you, I could not pin-point a specific time period. I guessed late 1860's early 70's. Some of the "relationships" seemed a bit racy for that time period and reminded me more of Downton Abbey! Overall I liked the show, although I would have preferred it to be more drawn out so the characters could be more developed. But you say there is a Season 2 after Moray and Denise resolve their relationship? That should be interesting.

  4. BBC. I like BBC shows. Maybe I will be able to find this one somewhere. After I finish Jeeves and Wooster I will need something to watch.

  5. Me too, i believe the story takes place between 1869 to 1876.
    i love the review, nice post, well done

  6. Gosh, it looks like the BBC adapted Au Bonheur Des Dames, my favourite Emile Zola novel! Of course they put it all in an English setting, but I have to watch it now. I'm glad they made it a TV show and not a movie because it's a huge book and details would have been lost (think of all those Jane Eyre 2-hours adaptations that barely spend ten minutes in Lowood). I stumbled on your blog by pure luck, thank you for this nice discovery!

  7. I agree with you about the costumes, they were quite hard to date sometimes. I loved them though!
    I haven't got around to watching the second series yet but I'm looking forward to it.


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