It seems there are always competing projects in the works, with multiple versions of Snow White hitting theaters at nearly the same time, and various Wizard of Oz television programs being developed for next fall’s TV season. Just as folks are discovering Mr. Selfridge, along comes The Paradise, which also is set around the opening of the first big department store in England. The Paradise’s first eight episode series is now available in a two-disc Blu-ray set.
Unlike Mr. Selfridge, which centers on the proprietor of the establishment, The Paradise chooses to unfold through the eyes of young Denise Lovett (Joanna Vanderham, Dancing on the Edge), one of the peons in this world. Denise works for her Uncle Edmund’s (Peter Wight, Babel, Atonement) small business as a shop girl in 1875. But when The Paradise opens nearby, the little store suffers. Undaunted, Denise lands a job for their competitor, and soon catches the eye of the boss, John Moray (Emun Elliott, Prometheus).
Now, Moray is a handsome widower, and Denise isn’t the only one vying for his attention. Her quick rise through the ranks, at least partially due to Moray’s attention, sparks jealousy in her co-worker, Clara (Sonya Cassidy, Vera), who has slept with Moray, but failed to win his heart, as well as the head of the ladies’ fashion department, Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire, Lark Rise to Cranford). But Denise is anything but fragile, so she can handle a little competition.
Moray isn’t perfect. Lacking financial resources himself, having come from a very modest background, he counts on the generosity of Lord Glendenning (Patrick Malahide, Hunted) to see his dreams realized. Glendenning has a daughter named Katherine (Elaine Cassidy, Harper’s Island) who also has designs on Moray, so, needless to say, Denise has her work cut out for her to win the man, as well as the successful career she wants.
The Paradise has many of the staples of classic British drama: the various economic classes mixing, messy romance with multiple suitors, the plucky hero who works to better themselves, a sprawling cast, a concentrated story, and gorgeous costumes. Plus, with the staff living above the store, it even gets a little bit of a Downtown Abbey feel sometimes, at the least the parts of that show that focus on the servants. In short, if you’re a fan of the genre, this series should satisfy you quite well.
The plots are scandalous, sort of a period piece version of soapy primetime shows. Some of the stories in this set include: a man whose termination is demanded because of immoral behavior, a baby abandoned in the store being used as a sales tool, mysterious and / or unexpected illnesses, secrets about a past death dredged up, comical misunderstandings, a stubborn shop keep (Doctor Who‘s Arthur Darvill) serving as a barrier to progress, and a lavish wedding plagued by complications. So it’s full and entertaining, even if it delves a little bit into a hyper-reality.
This release is Blu-ray, so no review would be complete without a discussion of production quality. The Paradise has many vibrant colors, which come across very well in high definition, and the detail is welcome. Sometimes, in the darker scenes, a little graininess creeps in, and occasionally, the sharp picture reveals the falseness of the setting. However, overall, it’s a pretty good visual presentation for a British drama, which typically has a little lower budget than its American counterparts.
As for audio, the dialogue is front and center, super clean. There aren’t a lot of effects and the track doesn’t really make use of the surround sound available to the 5.1 mix tin this set. However, you shouldn’t miss a word the characters say, and for a series like this, that’s what viewers are looking for, anyway.
There are also a quartet of bonus features, much more than the other most recent BBC series releases. Interviews with with the cast are present, as well as a set tour, a featurette on the glamorous costumes (of course), and a behind the scenes extra. There are not any commentaries or deleted scenes, as most American audiences look for, but compared to its peers, The Paradise doesn’t do bad with inclusions.
The Paradise is available now on Blu-ray.