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The Paradise is a Seamy Bag of Clichés, Say Critics

Posted on the 26 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
The Paradise The Paradise is so so. Photocredit: BBC

The background

We have an invasion of period drama at the moment – the Ford Madox Ford adaptation Parade’s End; Julian Fellowes’ posh soap Downton Abbey; Mr Selfridge is about to hit us, and now The Paradise, an eight-part series set in a 19th-century department shore in a Northern English city, is coming to our screens this week, based on a novel by Emile Zola, Au bonheur des dames. It’s adapted by Bill Gallagher, who was the chief writer on Lark Rise to Candleford, and stars Peter Wright as Edmund Lovett, owner of a drapery shop across the road from a new department store, The Paradise, run by John Moray (Emun Elliott), and Joanna Vanderham as Lovett’s niece, a young country girl on the look out for a job, who lands one at the department store. Critics are finding it so-so, and wonder why we have so much period drama at the moment. The first episode did pull in 5.5 million viewers, though.

A retreat from the modern world

Why are commissioners “ so committed to historical fiction?” asked Mark Lawson in The Guardian. Is “television drama … becoming too backward-looking?” Though these shows are all different, it seems that TV is being “forced into retreat from the modern world.” It’s basically much safer to do period dramas – you don’t have to worry about things like sexuality and swearing. In fact, it’s class conflict that we love so much about period drama. Charitably, one can argue that “historical drama can be topical through parallel and allusion” – and both Paradise and Mr Selfridge are “set in shops during periods of economic difficulty and social change.” However, we still need “more dramas in which the actors could go home on the tube in their costumes without being conspicuous.”

So clichéd it’s practically a send-up

Neil Midley in The Telegraph said that the “first episode” of The Paradise “was such a pastiche, it’s hard to see” how it could be sent up. It was all rather set up and clichéd. The women “occupied themselves by coveting silk gowns and rich husbands,” whilst “the men had a much manlier task – delivering laughable hyperbole with a straight face.” When someone woos someone else’s daughter, her father says: “I must warn you … if you break her heart, whether or not I grant you a loan will be of no consequence. Because I shall make it my business … to ruin you.” If Zola “were still alive today, he might well be tempted to use the words ‘j’accuse’ once more.”

Seamy and unpleasant

Indeed, said Andrew Billen in The Times, if you wanted “undemanding period sentiment” from The Paradise, you won’t get it – it’s “seamy and unpleasant.” However, the “acting” does belong “to something soft like Lark Rise.” So the “characters were not only venal,” but also “shabby.” It’s “been a while since I got lost in a department store. I won’t be losing myself in this either.”

Watch the trailer

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