Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Even though the BBC threatened to put a stop to all period dramas, this year they gave us a diverting eight hour series about the romantic and business entanglements of a Victorian London department store.
Denise (Joanna Vanderham) is seeking to make her way in the world when she arrives at her uncle's shop in London. Business is so bad he can't afford to employ her, so she walks across the street to The Paradise, a rapidly growing business owned by Moray (Emun Elliott). Though she swiftly settles in among the girls in the ladies section, her interest is more diverted by her employer, who is fighting for his plans for expansion with an overly-cautious manager, Dudley (Matthew McNulty). He's also wooing Katherine (Elaine Cassidy), the spoiled daughter of the richest banker in town, in the hopes that he can gain financing for his desire to buy up the surrounding area in anticipation of his great success. Katherine is eager to announce an engagement, but Moray is uncertain... and he becomes even more so as he comes to know Denise better.
If this series has one flaw, it's the unlikable male lead. It's hard for me to root for an innocent young woman to become involved with a manipulative, temperamental, often philandering businessman. For much of the series, Moray's true intentions aren't revealed to us, but it appears that he is toying with Katherine's feelings in an effort to use her for financial gain, with no real intention of making her his wife. We learn he "slipped" and had a one night stand with one of his shop girls. He's also quite forward to Denise on their first meeting, and never really shows anything for her other than appreciation over her ideas, which make him money. So in spite of eight episodes of trying to capitalize on romantic tension, I never warmed to him.
The costuming is beautiful and the locations are different enough from what we've seen in previous costume dramas to make them interesting. The plot becomes more complicated as it goes along, wandering from small successes in the store to more diabolical events (such as a murder). There's a lovely cast of guest appearances, including one rather humorous one by David Bamber. Arthur Darvill also appears as a slightly sinister next door barber. Though comparisons to the BBC's earlier series of Lark Rise to Candleford are inevitable due to it sharing cast members and the main writer, I more enjoyed The Paradise. In spite of its banal leading man, the stories are more mature and it's delightful fun to see the inner workings of a business in the era.
References to children outside of wedlock; a woman has a man unlace her gown so she can breathe (they passionately kiss); a man confesses to a one night stand with an employee (she references this many times and propositions him later).
Mild abuses of deity and a few profanities.
A man is punched in the face; a dead body is found floating in the river; someone manhandles a woman; a boy is accidentally thrown down the stairs.