Monday, 20 April 2015


“You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.” - Howard Schultz

We are watching a rather interesting BBC TV series at the moment, Bill Gallagher’s 2012 “The Paradise” starring Joanna Vanderham, Emun Elliott, Stephen Wight, Sonya Cassidy, Elaine Cassidy, Sarah Lancashire, and Matthew McNulty. This is a series based on Émile Zola’s (1840–1902) novel “Au Bonheur des Dames” (= The Ladies’ Paradise). The novel is set in the world of the department store, an innovative development in mid-nineteenth century retail sales. Zola modelled his store after ‘Le Bon Marché’, which consolidated under one roof many of the goods hitherto sold in separate shops. The narrative details many of Le Bon Marché’s innovations, including its mail-order business, its system of commissions, its in-house staff commissary, and its methods of receiving and retailing goods.

The series has been adapted from the book by its creators to be quite English, the department store in question being renamed “The Paradise”, which is situated in England, with all characters British. If you are familiar with the novel, Monsieur Octave Mouret becomes Mr John Moray, Denise Baudu becomes Denise Lovett, and so on. The BBC used the novel as the basis for an eight-part television series making up the first season, and as this was successful, a second series was launched in October 2013. We are nearly through the first season and we have enjoyed this quite a lot.

As is the case with most BBC period dramas, the settings, costumes, acting and direction are impeccable and one gets a very clear impression of another time, becoming immersed in 19th century manners and mores. Emun Elliot as the charismatic retail magnate Moray, and Joanna Vanderham as the initially demure but fast developing shop-girl-on-the-way-up Denise, while the rest of cast support well, some in a studiously understated manner, others with more exuberance.

While watching this I was reminded of the highly successful British comedy series, the 1972-1985 “Are you Being Served?”, also set in a department store, but of course contemporary in setting and farcical in intent. Nevertheless, one could perhaps see a few touches here and there that were similar to ‘The Paradise’. I should also mention of course, that “Downton Abbey” is another TV series that I was reminded of, although there was hardly anything similar between the two shows. I think that if you enjoyed “Downton Abbey”, you are most likely to enjoy “the Paradise” as well.

Those who have read Zola’s novel may be a little disappointed as the series was “inspired” by it and what you see on TV is not a faithful rendition of Zola’s work, as say serialised Jane Austen novels are. However, the main ideas of Zola’s novel are there: Progress will not be halted, whether for the better or for the worse, and big business will relentlessly and irreversibly destroy small business…

I am now curious to see what will occur in the second season, as apparently this has fewer references to Zola’s novel, but according to the viewing statistics it still remained highly popular amongst viewers. We shall see what we shall see…

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