Monday, November 18, 2013

Your Crinoline Is Showing, My Dear

So, I have a confession to make. 

I've only read one Emile Zola book in my entire life. It was horrifically depressing and ended with the heroine of the novel being found dead several days after she'd died from OD-ing on absinthe. Absinthe. That's what's missing from television these days.  Hey, at least she didn't throw herself under a train, amirite? God, Victorian ladies. Just get the right to vote already. 

I don't have any rights in 19th century Europe, but a girl can give side eye. 

But fear not! Those brave folks over at BBC One -- knowing how much we Yanks like to watch British people in fancy dress plot against and snark at each other -- have released an adaptation of Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames, translated into English as The Paradise, airing on a teevee or interwebz near you. 

So, I spent this past weekend watching the episodes that aired on Masterpiece Classic. Visually, it is definitely a treat. The lighting and coloring of the shoot are all very soft, and the 1870s-1880s costumes are killer. It's kind of like watching an Impressionist painting come to live. Except maybe with fewer tongue-in-cheek hooker jokes.  

Le Américain Jerry Lewis est un génie

The Paradise more or less what one comes to expect from a UK costume drama: frippery; unrequited love; unadvised attractions to one's social inferiors; pearl-clutching; children of questionable parentage; fainting; and the liberal employment of smelling salts.  If you simply cannot wait for the return of Downton Abbey in January, you simply must imbibe.

I was kind of surprised that this was based on a Zola novel, because Mr. J'accuse is kind of a downer.  So, I checked the Wikipedia to see how loosely based this was on Zola's novel, and I discovered that it was originally a novel series, set in Paris. Sticklers might dislike that the novel has been relocated to York, but as long as it doesn't all end with the heroine being found several days after rigor mortis has set in, I'm kind of okay with the Anglo reboot. 

The show is similar in concept to ITV's Mr. Selfridge, which aired on PBS earlier this year. I tried really hard to get into Mr. Selfridge earlier this year and it just wasn't doing it for me, sick costumes notwithstanding. The Paradise is all beribboned and bebustled, but the things that it has going for it that I feel Mr. Selfridge doesn't are: good acting; good writing; sympathetic characters; a likable and interesting supporting ensemble cast; and a likable leading man who succeeds at coming across as rakish and charming instead of pervy. And where else, I ask you, can you hear such words as"'haberdashery"?  Get on this posthaste.

Fraulein, were you this much trouble at the abbey?

The show follows the exploits of Miss Denise Lovett (Johanna Vanderham), who arrives in York to work in her uncle's shop. She will serve as our Ingenue/Princess-in-Disguise. Unfortunately, her uncle's Edmund's business is suffering because the Victorian equivalent of Wal-Mart has opened up across the street. 

Since slavery ended in the States, we've discovered this delightful little thing called exploitative textile mills. They employ children! It's quite, quite charming!

Edmund tells Denise that there's no work for her at his shop, so she applies for a position at the The Paradise, the large department store across the street. The Paradise is owned and operated by Mr. John Moray, our aforementioned Rakish Leading Man. Denise is hired to work in ladies' wear, but quickly gains the attention of fashionable clients like Katherine Glendenning, who purchases an expensive frock at Denise's insistence. This causes strife between Denise and Miss Audrey, the head of ladies' wear, and Clara, a fellow shopgirl who feels slighted continually after Denise's arrival. 

Denise also attracts the attentions of Moray, who begins to rely on Denise's suggestions for improvement at the store. He also begins to make made calf eyes at her pretty soon after their introduction. This complicates matters because Moray's ostensible girlfriend (and potential future fiance), Katherine Glendenning, is a regular patron at the store. Her father, Lord Glendenning, is a financial backer of Moray's adventure. Moray insists that he's in mourning for his dead wife, and that's why he hasn't proposed, but really it's that he's Just Not That Into Katherine. He's also hot for Denise. There's also that. 

Hell hath no shopping sprees like a woman scorned.

Moray, it seems, was also bedding Clara, and then broke things off because .. well ... because, why not? I guess it's Denise's job to reform him, save him from himself, etc. Get excited, girls. 

It has always been a girlish dream of mine to love a man called Ernest.

If I can have a personal geek-out moment. I can? All right then. One thing that got me super excited about The Paradise was the presence of a few cast members from the BBC's now-defunct Lark Rise to Candleford, which I feel the Beeb took off the air way too soon (and likely lost that viewership to ITV and Downton Abbey). The stinkin' adorable Ruby Bentall (Minnie on Lark Rise), once again cast as a working class Victorian girl (TYPECASTING) appears as Pauline, one of Denise's allies in ladies' wear. 

Hey, I'm going to ride this goofy and quirky train as long as the paychecks keep rolling in.

Fellow LR alum Matthew McNulty (Hottie McHotHot Fisher Boom on LR) appears as Dudley, Moray's business partner. Also putting in an appearance in Episode 1 is Olivia Hallinan, who portrays Katherine's histrionic and somewhat vampy friend -- a departure from her wide-eyed, innocent turn as Laura Timmins.

It's true, Katherine. I came wrecking ball. I'm so sorry.

You can watch The Paradise online at  It is airing on Masterpiece Classic here and there, so check your local listings for dates and times.  Rumor has it that the BBC has commissioned a second series.  You may now flail about and squee. Let's hope they keep this one on the air, shall we?


Maggie Cats said...

Yay, I will have to check this out!

I also loved Lark Rise to Candleford. As did my Mom--I will recommend this to her as well!

Arsenic Pie said...

Yay! Tell your mom! It's good. They're running it on Masterpiece where I live. The episode with Olivia Hallinan...omg she is so batshit craycray.

Little Earl said...

All I know about Emile Zola is that he was the only French celebrity who had the balls to call out the French government/army on the Dreyfus Affair when everyone else was busy hiding behind their baguettes and striped shirts. I keep forgetting that, oh right, he was already famous for something else! Zola was sort of like O.J., except, you know, for something better.

Arsenic Pie said...


Things did not end well for Msr. Dreyfus in the end, if memory serves. I did appreciate the Tarantino ref to Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds by naming the French Jewish family Dreyfus. That was not lost upon this girl.