The Paradise is an Edwardian drama for our times. It’s about ordinary people that face the same issues as ordinary people today: smaller businesses struggling to compete with huge corporations, people moving out of the rural areas to look for work in the cities, how difficult it can be to find one’s place in a working environment and all the quirky stories, dramas and human struggles that can occur in any workplace.
When the resourceful and spirited Denise (Joanna Vanderham) moves to the city hoping to gain a place at her uncle’s draper’s shop, she finds him too poor to take her on: the great department store The Paradise has quite literally sucked the lifeblood from small local businesses and has plunged many people into poverty. Desperate for work, Denise is soon forced to break her uncle’s heart by accepting a job there as a salesgirl and is plunged into a dizzyingly beautiful world of prettiness that is contrasted by an almost labyrinthine subterranean ‘downstairs’ where she lives with her fellow employees, many adorable, like the sweet and rather bumbling Pauline (Ruby Bentall), many just plain creepy, like the cruel-faced Clara (Sonya Cassidy) who begins plotting Denise’s downfall from the moment they meet.
Happily, Denise isn’t the kind of girl who allows herself to be trampled underfoot: she’s confident, bold, perhaps even reckless; she knows how to stand up for herself and possesses the kind of poise that cannot be taught, whether she’s arguing with a fellow staff member or selling a dress to a customer who considers herself to be above shopping at all. It’s wonderful to finally have a working-class heroine in a drama like this: she’s not somebody that young female viewers desire to be in their dreams, but somebody whom they can genuinely relate to; whose happiness they have shared and whose misery that have experienced themselves.
Denise is the show’s first embodiment of the beauty that is possible in the condition of the ordinary person, and how it can be just as moving and complex as the condition of the upper classes that tend to dominate the standard Edwardian drama.
Series Two starts tonight! I wonder what will happen next for Denise and John?