Classed as what could only be described as the BBC equivalent to ITV’s Sunday night period drama Downton Abbey (and the subsequent department store series Mr Selfridge), The Paradise is now on to its second successful series. Cleverly scheduled so that it didn’t have to compete with Downton, The Paradise shifted in tone this series but lost none of its charm in the process, ensuring that it’s still just as enchanting and entertaining as ever.
At the end of series one Moray broke off his impending marriage to wealthy Katherine Glendenning in favour of a life with shop-girl Denise, whose bright-eyed enthusiasm and spirited manner had captured his heart. Our two lovers were united on ‘their’ bridge, destined for a life of happiness with The Paradise store as the backdrop. Sadly happy-ever-after was not on the cards, with the start of series two seeing Moray exiled to Paris following the death of Lord Glendenning and the news that The Paradise now belongs to Katherine and her new husband, Tom Weston. With Moray permitted to return as manager of The Paradise, his reunion with Denise is darkened by the bitter presence of Katherine, who’s hell bent on retribution, and her husband, who’s a more formidable enemy than Katherine ever was. The store suddenly isn’t the paradise it’s named after and as the series progresses there’s more at stake than just Moray and Denise’s relationship.
Returning to the bustling department store for a second time is a pleasure, with many of the same characters back to brighten or darken the series respectively. The Paradise employees Clara, Dudley, Sam and Arthur all make a deserved return, as does Miss Audrey, though her appearance is all too fleeting as it succumbs to Denise’s rise to head of Ladieswear. Sarah Lancashire’s Audrey has been a joy to watch from the start but her departure was a necessary step in order to develop not only the character of Denise but also the series as a whole.
Poor dippy Pauline didn’t make the cut for series two, however her replacement in the form of equally daft and wildly impressionable Susy makes up for it tenfold. With backup from crude cook Myrtle, whose lack of decorum never fails to delight, The Paradise consistently delivers engaging characters that are as multifaceted as any. With these old and new characters comes a great deal of humour, which didn’t come through in the first series. There have been plenty of genuinely chuckle-worthy moments as the episodes have progressed, breathing life and jauntiness in to the series. It seems to have garnered a little of the theatricality that its competition Mr Selfridge has in abundance.
As for leading man John Moray, he was always in need of a good adversary and the writers have created an impressive enemy in Ben Daniels’ Tom Weston, a man whose malicious looks, cruel actions, and manipulative ways could spell the end for the once unstoppable owner. Crushed by Katherine and Weston, Moray has become a shadow of his former self this series, floating dejectedly around the store like a spare part as Denise rises up in true underdog fashion. Whilst this has made way for an intriguing change in dynamics, Moray was always the best part about The Paradise. He was the showman, the entrepreneur, the leader who spurred his workers to victory. Denise was his ‘little champion’ – the lady with the ideas to match his – and that dynamic was established as one that worked in favour of the show. I’m all for championing women’s equality and it’s nice to see Denise rise up where she so clearly belongs, but instead of working together as a team, Moray and Denise now seem to be working against each other – a definite spanner in the works one would say. Still, it makes for a welcome change in pace and shakes things up a little, which period dramas need to do if they’re to stand up against their rivals.
With his and Denise’s relationship pushed to the edge and The Paradise dangerously close to slipping from his grip for good, how will Moray fare as he comes up against Tom Weston in Sunday’s big finale? If you’ve been watching series two avidly you’ll know that it all rests on this last episode of the series, as Clémence returns and the fate of The Paradise is thrown wide open. Moray’s future depends on him being able to defeat Tom Weston, rid himself of Katherine Glendenning and reclaim The Paradise as his own. It’s going to be an unmissable episode.
Series two of The Paradise is released on DVD on 9th December.