Find yourself in The Paradise on Saturday nights

Denise (Joanna Vanderham) in a scene from the delightful The Paradise on Saturday nights.
Denise (Joanna Vanderham) in a scene from the delightful The Paradise on Saturday nights. Jonathan Ford

IMAGINE Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs set in a Victorian department store and you'll find yourself in Paradise - or The Paradise to be precise.

It's a delightful romp on ABC 1 that has given us a reason to stay in on Saturday nights.

Set in Britain's first department store, this is a scrumptiously-filmed and costumed Victorian drama series about secrets, desire, ambition and intrigue.

We follow shop girl Denise (Joanna Vanderham) who turns her back on her uncle's struggling store opposite The Paradise to seek a job in the Paradise's ladies' wear department. She's kind-hearted but also smart and ambitious and it isn't long before Denise attracts the attention of the store's charming but often ruthless owner John Moray (Emun Elliott).

A self-made man, a true capitalist, he is in every sense of the word modern for his time. "I deal in appetite," he declares, adding that that appetite in women must be exploited.

Moray recognises his same drive and imagination in Denise. But after a failed affair with one of his shop girls, he's entangled with the rich Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy) who is determined to marry him despite his apparent inability to commit.

The series takes us into the lives of those who live at The Paradise against a background of a changing world, where despite progress there's still a deep divide between rich and poor. We are effortlessly drawn into the characters' squabbles, their dramas, their dreams and their romances, finding favourites to champion and others to dislike.

Moray is a wonderful, complex character, devoted to his dead wife or her memory at least, but somehow drawn to Denise despite the appeal of Katherine - and Katherine's father's money. He's restless, forceful, reckless and passionate and we want him to succeed, just as we want Denise to triumph amid the jealousies and schemes of her fellow workers who are threatened by her.

In fact, all the characters are intriguing, from Moray to Katherine to Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire), the flustered head of ladies' wear, to Arthur (Finn Burridge), the boy born at the Paradise and given a place by Moray, to the sinister Jonas (David Hayman), fiercely loyal to Moray and with a demeanour hinting at a secret, violent past.

At its heart The Paradise is a romance and a glorious one. It's also delightful drama and even if you haven't watched the first few episodes you'll pick it up.

For those who delved into the first episode of The Paradise, based on Emile Zola's novel Au Bonheur des Dames and were disappointed - I'd agree it was not outstanding and was even drab.

But if you persevered, you'll have found rich reward in the next few which have been utterly compelling.

The Paradise screens at 7.30pm on Saturdays on the ABC.

Topics:  blog opinion tv tragic

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