Judge Jason Panella has two tickets to The Paradise.
Step Inside For Your Heart's Desire
Is this the paradise? Is this just fantasy?
Facts of the Case
Based on Émile Zola's novel Au Bonheur des Dames, The Paradise is a costume drama that revolves around England's first department store. Denise (Joanna Vanderham, What Maisie Knew) moves from Victorian-era Scotland to England and is soon hired at The Paradise, a large store putting all of its smaller competitors out of business. Her co-workers may picture her as a young country bumpkin, but Denise has some big ideas. Big enough ideas that they attract the attention of John Moray (Emun Elliot, Paradox), the owner of The Paradise. Moray is an enigmatic young businessman who is still mourning the death of his wife three years ago. He spends most of his time dreaming up new ways to improve his storeâ€"a fact that irks the wealthy Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy, Harper's Island), who is interested in the widower's affections.
BBC's first season of The Paradise is comprised of eight hour-long episodes, all in original UK format.
It's sometimes the little things that I appreciate most. The first season of The Paradise, for instance, has a number of episodic stories that are just so slight. And I don't mean that in a bad way—the show has a number of season-long story arcs that are appropriately dramatic, certainly, but sometimes keeping the stakes low is a nice break from all of the Big Drama. Sometimes I just want to watch characters talk about the ins and outs of selling exotic birds and silks, you know?
The Paradise, which was created by writer Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford), follows the staff and patrons of the titular English department store. While the relocation of Zola's French social elements to an English setting could have been smoother, the show still relies so much on how blue collar shop employees interact with the wealthy customers.
But don't confuse this show for something like Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs; The Paradise is more an old-fashioned romantic yarn than social justice think piece, though it does genuinely touch on the latter a bit.
Denise—given an elusive and plucky charm by Vanderham—wants to make a name for herself and find her own place at The Paradise, but she's also inexplicably charmed by Mr. Moray. This is stuff that's been done countless times already on British television, sometimes done better than it is on The Paradise. But the parts all add up to something that's really comforting. Part of it is the enjoyable cast, especially great supporting players like Stephen Wight (Sherlock) and Ruby Bentall (Lost in Austen), who steal every scene they're in. Part of it is the wonderful atmosphere the show builds—great attention is paid to candle glow and natural lighting, which gives some of the sets a permanent Christmas-y vibe. Part of it is the wonderfully Dickensian plotlines carry over from episode to episode. And part of it is how the show treats those minor plotlines like they actually matter to the characters. This all results in some really enjoyable television, no matter how familiar it might be.
BBC Home Entertainment's three-disc set of The Paradise has a nice standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround English track is also quite nice, especially when Maurizio Malagnini's charming score kicks in. Not nice, however, is the English SDH subtitle option: when multiple characters speak, the words slush together with little distinction to who said what. The set also includes the 29-minute making-of featurette, "Behind the Doors of Paradise."
While The Paradise may not bring anything new to the world of costume dramas, it's still a delightful show.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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