There are plenty of period dramas that flounder around in the hinterland of quite niceness – never quite pissing you off, never quite engaging. North and South with Daniela Denby-Pash was one. She butted heads with mill owner Richturd ArmitageShanks and learned about how the poor people live. You forgot about it seven seconds after it aired and that kind of goldfish broadcasting seems to be the norm. Northbanger Shabbey, The Barchesturd Chronicles, Madame Ovary – whoever could give a fuck? And what of The Paradise, Emile Zola’s novel transported to England by the BBC and Bill Gallagher? Let’s see shall we?
Country girl greenhorn Denise Lovett (Joanna Vanderham) comes to an unnamed northern town (hereafter referred to as Shitbox) to get work in her Uncle Edmund’s drapery outfit. They’ve talked about it for years: Denise running Uncle Edmund’s so there will be absolutely no problem there with her waltzing into a job, none at all. Unless of course Edmund’s operation is going to feckery like the rest of the Shitbox small businesses in the wake of the swanky new The Paradise owned by the handsome enigmatic John Moray (Emun Elliott). Effing megastores squeezing out high street retailers – some things never change.
So the feisty yet naive Denise has to seek work at The Paradise and she’s put on probation as a store girl and her first task is to crush like a crazywoman on Moray who has the kind of one-in-a-thousand animal magnetism that gets ladies sliding off their chairs then log fluming around the room in figure of eight formation like The Banana Splits. Denise comes under the tutelage of the stern but decent Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire) who tells her "there will be no relations with men" – such dalliances will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Well that’s Chekhov’s ‘get tae fuck’ loaded. Who’s the lucky young man who’s going to end up in Denise’s room and what calibre cannon will they fire him from? I like Miss Audrey. She says things like "careless hair is a sin" and you know what? She’s fucking right.
"’Moray has the kind of one-in-a-thousand animal magnetism that gets ladies sliding off their chairs then log fluming around the room in figure of eight formation like The Banana Splits."
Denise is naturally curious about Moray and it turns out he got into the business after marrying some store owner skank who mysteriously "died" in an "accident". "Don’t ever mention his wife in The Paradise." Denise is told "It’s forbidden. Understand? Nobody talks about her” OK, we get it. We’re not supposed to mention the first Mrs Moray. And yet I think we’ll be hearing more about her.
You can’t mourn forever though, right? Especially when you’re the kind of man everyone on breathing gay or straight would amputate their limbs to spend 5 minutes with. Moray courts Shitbox bigwig Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy) who love him long time and has a rich daddy Lord Glendenning (Patrick Malahide). Tell me John, what first attracted you to millionaire’s daughter Katherine Glendenning? Ah it’s not quite like that but John wants daddy to invest in The Paradise and expand, expand, expand until the entire city is filled with his glory. Zikes!
"I like Miss Audrey. She says things like ‘careless hair is a sin’ and you know what? She’s fucking right." Back at the store Denise is busy making friends and frenemies with the other girls. In the good girl column is Pauline played by Ruby Bentall with the kind of pan-faced gawkiness that will ensure a lifetime’s work paying period povs in series with titles that sound like George Eliot writing for Troy McClure, all stuck permanently on 6.1/10 on IMDb.
But while Pauline is nice Clara (Sonya Cassidy) is nasty. She’s a proper bitch to Denise – sassing, sabotaging and generally being a weasel. The thing is Clara has a squid boner for Moray, the kind that will make a beautiful girl turn up naked at your doorstep demanding sex within the next 3 minutes, threatening to slit her own throat if you don’t comply.
You know the kind. The kind that has never, ever, ever been caused by you and never, ever will be.
Clara sees the way Moray looks at Denise (like he wants to put his cock in her and who wouldn’t, she’s a sexually attractive woman after all) and she no rikee. Denise for her part claims "I don’t want to marry Moray – I want to be him!" What? You want to kill him, skin him and walk around and wear him like a fucking ermine robe like Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs? Christ.
"Pauline, played by Ruby Bentall with the kind of pan-faced gawkiness that will ensure a lifetime’s work paying period povs in series with titles that sound like George Eliot writing for Troy McClure, all stuck permanently on 6.1/10 on IMDb"
Matthew McNulty (last seen playing salt-of-the-earth Stuart in The Syndicate) plays Mister Dudley, his trusty sidekick who he effortlessly patronises. When Moray slashes prices to get people in the doors to impress the future father-in-law to get the loan he thinks he needs Dudley balks. "You seem drunk on grief" he says.
That’s a pretty good insight from the turd. Moray is behaving like a loopy cunt. He’s trying to turn the store he inherited from his dead wife into a city-sized mausoleum for her and nobody but Dudley can see it. Everybody loves Moray because he’s an irredeemable people pleaser. He’ll promise you the Earth and you’ll smile when he doesn’t deliver it because he’s just that dreamy. Disaster beckons.
Anyway, how is it doing after one episode? Not bad – not bad at all. The first questions I ask of any period drama are: has it pissed me off yet and is the pumpum fresh? My nause meter has barely tweaked and the presence of the twin pie salvo Joanna Vanderham and Sonya Cassidy wouldn’t embarrass any patisserie. Denise is sympathetic, Moray charismatic and The Paradise beguiling. I don’t want Clara to fall into the bafflingly vicious co-worker antagonist who everyone knows about but never seems to get the sack category (hello Thomas from Clownton Abbey!) but so far they are not pushing that angle too hard. They want to be careful they don’t. With period drama you’re only ever one stupid scene away from haemorrhaging fans like Wham! reformed with just Ridgeley, Pepsi and David van Day subbing for George Michael.
The verdict on The Paradise: The Paradise – it’s where you go when you die.
Marks out of 10: 7.5