The Paradise Episode 1 Review

“I don’t want to marry him – I want to be him”

As Parade’s End saunters off our screens we go from one lavish BBC production to another as we enter the doors of the vibrant and competitive departments of The Paradise – Bill Gallagher‘s adaption of the classic French novel by Emile Zola. The story has been transported to 1875 England as opposed to the Paris setting of the novel, about the first department store run by the ambitious, charming and sometimes desperately reckless John Moray played wonderfully by Emun Elliott.

Country girl Denise Lovett (Joanna Vanderham) turns up to start work in her uncle Edmund’s drapery shop (a store which her Uncle hopes one day she will take over) only to find there is no work due to The Paradise having taken all its customers away. Dazzled by the Paradise’s elegance and intrigued by its owner Moray in more ways than one, Denise risks adding to her Uncle’s bitterness towards Moray as she takes on a position in ladies wear under the formidable Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire) at The Paradise. Moray is only too keen to help who is not only attracted to the newcomer but sees an opportunity to prove to Edmund that he will conquer and be the biggest store. That he is “progress.”

The story is not so much about the time it is set, although the sets and attention to detail are stunning and the interplay of the staff fascinating, it is the universal themes of corruption, competitiveness, greed, love, manipulation and class, all as relevant today as we see small businesses buckle under the popularity of the showmanship, affluence and convenience of the department store.  Moray seduces his customers to buy his goods while making his staff fall in love with him – some at their own peril as Clara is proof. That’s one cat surely to be let out the bag soon.

The drama has quality stamped all over it will interesting fleshed out characters each with their own game to play. Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy) is infatuated with the idea of marrying Moray. But as her father says “why the rush?” However Moray has his sights firmly set on Lord Glendenning’s money and sets about proving the lure of The Paradise with a “Grand sale.”  Jonas on the other hand plays the slow game as he lurks in the shadows, spying for Moray, and with a sinister air warning those who get in the way. But whose side is he really on? I’m not fully convinced he’s working in the interests of Moray. Dudley (Matthew McNulty) is the dependable sidekick who frets over every decision practicality winning over ambition.

However two of the most interesting characters are Miss Audrey and Clara both jealous of Denise’s arrival and they make sure they show it. Miss Audrey played with great flamboyance by Sarah Lancashire as the lonely spinster who sees herself as a cut above, but prides herself on her career and position in the store, which she fears Denise may suddenly be a threat with her natural talent for sales. Her consistent “Quickly girl,” “don’t dally” and everything is a “sin” is highly amusing.

Clara (Sonya Cassidy) on the other hand is a product of Moray’s manipulation as a former lover sidelined to return to be a passing sales girl who seethes with bitterness and takes her fury and jealously out on Denise in her spiteful treatment. She sees her as a love rival having noted Moray’s instant attraction to Denise. She would rather ruin Moray than see him deny her.

A triumph for BBC one. Can the show keep up the pace and intrigue for eight episodes? – Time will tell. I certainly hope so!