Although this series was based on a book by Zola, I'm treating it as an isolated drama series since I haven't read the book for comparison. The Paradise tells the story of a country girl who joins the staff of a prestigious department store. Denise (Joanna Vanderham) has come to work for her uncle, Edmund (Peter Wight) but finds his shop across the street from the department store desolate and unable to support her. Starting work in Ladieswear under the withering gaze of Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire) she faces animosity from colleague, Clara (Sonya Cassidy), but Denise is full of ideas, some of which capture the attention of owner, John Moray (Emun Elliott). There is a spark between them but Moray is in the process of wooing Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy), the daughter of Lord Glendenning (Patrick Malahide), although the spectre of his late wife troubles him on a daily basis.
In all honesty, I found the first episode a little disjointed and difficult to watch. That's a sticking point with many dramas and the introduction of Denise to the world of the department store was much less effective than her immersion in it in later episodes. Characters who seemed like cardboard cut-outs in the first episode are fleshed out much more as the series progresses, notably Miss Audrey and the impassive clerk, Jonas (David Hayman). There is enough in the later episodes for me to recommend persevering with this - if you're a fan of period drama, of course.
The sets and costumes seemed perfect, most of the dialogue was in keeping with the period. Denise's accent was a little all over the place at first and, given the fluctuations, I never managed to accurately pinpoint where she was supposed to be from. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this series was perhaps the use of some excellent younger actors who are going to be in many, many things to come. Some of them were already familiar to me - Emun Elliott (Lip Service), Elaine Cassidy and Stephen Wight as Sam (both Fingersmith), Matthew McNulty (The Syndicate) - but Joanna Vanderham and Ruby Bentall as Pauline were both new faces to me.
As the series progresses there are some surprises and some predictable twists, enough of the former to make the latter bearable. I particularly enjoyed the finale, but primarily for the resolution of Miss Audrey's own storyline as much as anything else. The series was left open enough for the BBC to renew it and I hope they do, although I remain a little puzzled by their scheduling. The Paradise was not a midweek offering - it's typical Sunday night entertainment which would've fared better in that slot than I suspect it did on Tuesday nights. While I realise that the schedulers were probably trying to avoid a Downton Abbey clash, pushing The Paradise back until perhaps next year would've ensured it got the audience it deserved. If it returns, I'd like to see it on a Sunday evening where it belongs.