One thing that is nice about watching mostly Netflix is that their algorithm for recommending things is generally better than my friends’ recommendations. Specifically, since I like things that are British and/or full of lovely costumes, I get a lot of recommendations for British costume dramas. The most recent suggestion I took was The Paradise, a Victorian-set drama about an early department store in a northern English town. It’s based on a novel by Emile Zola, although his story was set in France.
It focuses primarily on the character of Denise, a young woman from a small Scottish village who comes to live and work with her uncle, a draper, only to find that his store is barely staying afloat, so she has to take a position at the new department store, the Paradise. It’s a lot like Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs only in a store, not a manor house. It’s actually really interesting because the class dynamics include more about the merchant class, which seems to straddle a bit of a line, no doubt due to the original French material. But my favorite thing about The Paradise is that the story focuses so much on the women’s stories, rather than making everything about the men who, admittedly, would have dominated most of business life in that day and age.
But, seriously, this is a costume drama, so let’s talk about costumes. From the opening sequence, it becomes clear that The Paradise is about eye candy. The costumes are not only beautiful, they add to the feel of the show. From the elegant but understated attire of the shop girls to Moray’s somewhat flamboyant suits and waistcoats to Lady Katherine Glendenning’s dresses, the attire fits the characters. In season two, Lady Katherine finds herself in mourning (half mourning?) for most of the season and her attire becomes darker and more severe. And despite the fantastic costumes, I love that she wears dresses more than once. A real Victorian lady, no matter how wealthy, would not have had a new dress every single day without repeat. It just adds that special something.
My only complaints are twofold: the quick cancellation and the treatment of Lady Katherine in the second season. The show had only two seasons and, while it comes to a satisfying end, it still left me wishing I could see what happened next. It was not enough time spent with the characters they’d developed. Finally, I was displeased with how the plot treated Lady Katherine in the second season. She had been set as one of the antagonists to sweet, blonde Denise in the first season, and her plotline in the second season almost seemed like punishment, when really her only “crime” was to reach for what she wanted, contrary to society’s strictures. But some of her strength eventually came through and she remains a wonderfully flawed character.
I highly recommend The Paradise for a few weeks of eye-candy and Victorian period enjoyment. Perhaps someday something like it will come back.