TV Review: Masterpiece Classic’s ‘The Paradise’

Masterpiece Classics The Paradise Review

Classy adaptation of Emile Zola novel should help kill time till 'Downton Abbey'

For a nonprofit enterprise, PBS has an unexpected fascination with the retail business in the 19th and early 20th century. First, it was “Mr. Selfridge,” about a department-store visionary. Now, it’s a seven-part “Masterpiece Classic” series, “The Paradise,” adapted from an Emile Zola novel (and relocated from Paris to the U.K.). Impeccably cast, extremely handsome, predictably soapy and a trifle slow moving, it’s another first-rate costume drama — complete with class distinctions, melodrama and upstairs/downstairs elements — that should keep an older audience happily diverted until nearly Thanksgiving, when the great ship “Downton Abbey” looms closer on the horizon.

Here, Joanna Vanderham stars as Denise, the wide-eyed country girl who comes to the big city hoping to work for her uncle (Peter Wight), only to discover the new department store has dealt a blow to such mom-and-pop vendors. So she takes a job at said establishment, the Paradise, and with her pluck and intuitive sales instincts, quickly catches the eye of the hard-driving, charismatic and somewhat mysterious owner, Moray (Emun Elliott).

Don’t dare ask about his late wife, she’s told, though he has additional complications regarding the woman who would very much like to be his new one, Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy), a wealthy heiress whose father (the ubiquitous Patrick Malahide) is an influential banker. The banker, being a dad first, warns Moray that if the store owner breaks his daughter’s heart, he’ll go out of his way to crush him, whatever his own fiduciary interest in the Paradise.

Yet that’s just the opening salvo of soapy doings, which include a young sales associate, Sam (Stephen Wight), who finds himself in a career-threatening predicament involving a wealthy lady; and the jealousy directed at Denise, who works under the watchful eye of Miss Audrey (“Last Tango in Halifax’s” Sarah Lancashire), who is highly skeptical of the lass’s ambitions and interaction with Moray.

In the two-hour premiere, written by Bill Gallagher (subsequent chapters run an hour), there is no shortage of tart dialogue. When one of Katherine’s friends sets her eyes on Moray, she purrs, “If there is a more attractive man within 100 miles, I will kiss my husband.”

Once again, this is a British drama that filters the present through mores of the past, particularly in terms of the haughtiness directed at the working class and the dismissive attitude toward women of any stripe.

Yet Vanderham’s Denise makes for an unusually plucky and resourceful heroine, and the issues regarding the shifting nature of retail — particularly among the elites, resistant to shopping alongside the hoi polloi — are interesting, even if those observations hew pretty closely to ground covered in “Selfridge.”

Although the novel is considered a celebration of dawning capitalism, the setting provides a bustling backdrop to explore the various relationships. For the traditional “Masterpiece” audience, that should be its own little slice of heaven.

TV Review: Masterpiece Classic's 'The Paradise'

(Miniseries; PBS, Sun. Oct. 6, 9 p.m.)


Produced by BBC/Masterpiece and presented by WGBH Boston.


Executive producers, Susan Hogg, Bill Gallagher, Rebecca Eaton; producer, Simon Lewis; directors, Marc Jobst, David Drury, Sue Tully; writer, Gallagher; based on the novel by Emile Zola; camera, Alan Almond, Simon Richards; production designer, Melanie Allen; editors, David Head, Ben Drury; music, Maurizio Malagnini; casting, Julie Harkin. 120 MIN.


Joanna Vanderham, Emun Elliott, David Hayman, Laura Power, Peter Wight, Matthew McNulty, Stephen Wight, Sonya Cassidy, Rudy Bentall, Sarah Lancashire, Elaine Cassidy, Patrick Malahide

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  1. wig says:

    The acting is wonderful…with the exception of the two main characters…Moray and Denise. What a mess these two actors are. Moray is so distracting with his over-the-top antics, facial expressions, style of walking, that I can’t take the character seriously. He seems like the worst casting for this role….do not get it at all. Also, the woman who plays Denise is not believable either. She is representing a character with gumption and smarts…yet she forever looks like a deer in the headlights. EVERY other actor in this series is fabulous. I want to watch for their characters, but am consistently distracted by the terrible acting of the two main characters. What a shame.

  2. Elle says:

    Absolutely love it! The characters are played perfectly. The sets are beautiful, the clothes gorgeous and the story wonderful. No sex, no cussing….how wonderful! What insane person cancelled it? They should make more ith everyone and everything the same. Mr. Selfridge is not even close. Selfridge is not an attractive store that would awe and the rest of it is just plain boring! I bought The Paradise on Amazon and watch it on my Roku. Full episodes which Netflex does not have. There are important scenes that have been cut.

  3. Andy San Diego says:

    I wish Clara’s child had rejoined her mother, by Clara being promoted so she could afford the cost. And Katherine’s husband Tom should have been rewarded with an eye for an eye – physically beaten to pay for injuring Jonas. In fact, Tom should have been beaten, humiliated, and banished, Katherine should have married the wealthy sponsor of the orphanage, Katherine keeping Flora. A quick happy scene of Audrey and Edmund frolicking on the beach wouldn’t have hurt either.

    Why can’t writers wrap up the loose ends? Almost as many as Breathless!

  4. Wallace says:

    I just watched the final installment of The Paradise tonight… and I loved every minute of it, I found it delightful and very entertaining. I didn’t read be book but now I’m interested. I’m so sad the series is over… darn!

  5. Ruth says:

    Quote: “For a nonprofit enterprise, PBS has an unexpected fascination with the retail business in the 19th and early 20th century.”

    Don’t forget about “Are You Being Served.” I know it’s 1970’s but a classic Brit show that PBS aired.

  6. Janet Welch says:

    I love the series..”The Paradise” I have missed a couple not knowing exactly what the time is it is shown on PBS . Is this possibly available on dvd? I would love to have it. I would like to know what happened to the baby..

  7. Liz says:

    Ugh. Another Masterpiece about a British department store!? Could anyone pick a more boring topic?

  8. Cheryl says:

    I absolutely loved the first two episodes. But I would love to know what the heck the writer mean by this: “Although the novel is considered a celebration of dawning capitalism, the setting provides a bustling backdrop…?” Just another writer/so-called journalist who apparently thinks that capitalism is a bad thing. So sad…

  9. Marjorie Swift says:

    I love it, The story, The production values, The dialogue, The costumes. I would give my eye teeth for an opportunity to work on a film such as this.

    • Ruth says:

      I agree with Marjorie completely. I love all of it. Granted I might have a slight Masterpiece theatre addiction. I’ve watched since the original Upstairs Downstairs.

  10. Wayne Conery says:

    I would agree that “The Paradise” is better drawn and acted than “Mr. Selfridge” and may be based on the Zola novel. But the similarity between the two have almost made Paradise redundant — bickering clerks, owners who are womanizers and need to raise cash from wealthy backers, supervisors who downgrade the help, Etc., Etc. The results of the next several episodes can be predicted with a very small margin of error. Come on Masterpiece Theater, you can do better than this!

  11. MayraArreola says:

    I loved the first part of this mini series. I am 24 and have never read the book but I was instantly captivated by the storyline, visuals and costumes. I also don’t normally watch PBS because everything seems to be aimed at an older audience so I’m glad they are going out of their way to catch the attention of a new crowd. even if it isn’t spot on historically or faithfull to the book in every way, it is still far superior to almost all the entertainment on other channels so I will tune in next Snday again!

  12. Stephen Hopwood says:

    It’s unfortunate that Mr. Selfridge aired first or that it aired at all. As a result, “The Paradise” seems imitative when in fact Zola published the novel a quarter of a century before Selfridge’s Department Store opened. One might conclude Selfridge gained his inspiration from Zola’s novel.

  13. Monica T says:

    Performances are far superior to “Mr. Selfridge.” Production qualities are wonderful, and the script is much more fluid than “Selfridge.”

  14. Dave S. says:

    This is another “Mr. S….” with almost impenetrable accents, lots of smirking and facial reactions, beautiful costumes, a Don Juan who wants to bed every woman….an evening soap opera. As far as being of interest to an “older audience,” I don’t think so. Why is PBS wasting time and MONEY on such programs? Back to my reading….

  15. Sarah says:

    Hmmm, I’ll have to tell the 20-somethings in my household who enjoyed the show tonight that clearly this is television only for older people, or so says the critic. I didn’t think that Masterpiece Theater would come with the warning, “Not suitable for younger viewers.”

  16. Margaret Hope says:

    The first episode of “Paradise” is far more enjoyable than the other British department store sage. Joanna Vanderham is more interesting than the actor who played Mr. Selfridge. She plays Denise, the focal character on the economic and social rise, with a Northern Ireland accent, although this is supposed to be Paris. The transition to London hardly matters; the philosophy of Emile Zola is apparent in every line spoken. If you’re familiar with French literature, you will love this movie about social inequality and moral obligations. The morality of the plot incidents will be of interest to older audience members who remember when right and wrong were the subject of drama.

    • EmCeeHaych says:

      Denise’s accent is actually Scottish, and the relocation was to north-east England (nowhere near London) but I’d have to agree with the rest of your comment. I also read Zola’s book, and despite common complaints that The Paradise was inconsistent with the original story, I beg to differ! It was only ever intended to be a loose adaptation, and I certainly agree that Zola’s philosophy is apparent in every line spoken!

  17. Jeanmarie Starshak says:

    “Mr. Selfridge” is about the early 1900’s–NOT the 19th century–that would be the 1800’s. Not important, I guess, but I’m shocked at the number of people who don’t know the difference.

  18. Judith Hammill says:

    “hoi polloi” are two Greek words that translate to the two English words “the people.” So when you say “the hoi polloi,” you are saying “the the people.” It’s an all too common error, Mr. Lowry, but not one a writer wants to make, I wouldn’t think.

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