A Sparkling Vintage Life

The Paradise's savvy shopgirl Denise Lovett, played by Joanna Vanderham

The Paradise’s savvy shopgirl Denise Lovett, played by Joanna Vanderham

I’ve just finished watching The Paradise, a PBS miniseries set in a late-Victorian-era British department store. I wanted to watch the whole series before writing about it, in case it disappointed me like the earlier Mr. Selfridge, a different PBS series set in an Edwardian-era British department store. If you have confused the two, you are forgiven. However, they are not the same, and in my opinion, The Paradise is far better.

Mr. Selfridge, I didn’t much care for. The series started out well, but I found the characters too lacking in moral fiber to admire. While the story did a commendable¬† job of reflecting the issues¬† of its day, I wasn’t able to warm up to the characters, especially the wily and duplicitous American, Mr. Selfridge. I could never bring myself to root for him, and if you’re not rooting for the main character, it’s hard to get drawn into the story as a whole.

The Paradise, on the other hand, I liked very much. The store’s owner, John Moray, is a sympathetic character: appealing yet debt-ridden and haunted by the death of his young wife. Now engaged to be married to a self-absorbed aristocrat whose wealthy father has the power to make or break his career, Moray nonetheless finds himself attracted to Denise, the farm-fresh young shop girl, innocent yet scrappy, who revolutionizes the ladies-wear department, practically single-handedly. To my delight, the series also features the charming Ruby Bentall (Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford) as one of Denise’s shopgirl friends.

In some ways, Denise reminds me of Marjorie, the main character in my novel, who leaves her small town and finds work in Chicago’s Marshall Field department store. Like Denise, Marjorie find out she has a gift for selling clothes to ladies. Like Denise, Marjorie’s immediate supervisor has ruled the department for a long time and doesn’t take too kindly to young upstarts with innovative ideas. And like Denise, Marjorie’s heart is not set only on business.

Now that The Paradise has completed its run on PBS, perhaps you can rent it or catch it when it comes around again, as these things tend to do.¬† I don’t know if there will be a second season, although I hope there will be, as there were certain story threads left dangling.

Have you watched The Paradise? If so, what did you think of it?