Monday, 4 March 2013

The Paradise -v- Mr. Selfridge

I didn't think I used to like costume dramas. I mean, recently, they haven't been something I actively made a point of tuning in to watch. I've never seen an episode of Downtown Abbey - nor do I particularly want to. However, I've just finished watching The Paradise - an intoxicating story of love and power set against the backdrop of England's first department store in the 1870s (it was shown on BBC 1 last year, but SKY+ is a wonderful thing) and I think I may actually be coming round to the idea of the costume drama. Now, I'll be honest here and say that, first and foremost, I watched The Paradise for one reason and one reason only - Emun Elliot. Yes, I'm that shallow, and if he hadn't have been in it then I probably wouldn't have bothered at all, but that would have been such a shame. 

Emun Elliot as John Moray in The Paradise
Yes, he did look rather yummy as department store owner John Moray, but that aside, I just fell in love with that programme. I absolutely loved it, Emun Elliot or no Emun Elliot, although his presence was a lovely bonus. It was the first TV programme in a long time where I actually managed to switch off and think about nothing else except what was happening there on that TV screen - and for someone who has an inability to relax, this was nothing short of a miracle. I mean, I can't even do that during Person of Interest, despite the gorgeous Jim Caviezel being there in stunning HD right in front of me. Your brain has to do a bit of work during Person of Interest. Nod off for a few seconds and you haven't got a frigging clue what's going on anymore so you just end up perving over admiring the acting talent of the aforementioned Mr. Caviezel. Which isn't necesssarily a bad thing... Anyway, I digress...

Emun Elliot and Sarah Lancashire in a scene from The Paradise
The Paradise was a truly beautiful programme in my eyes. Visually stunning, with some great acting performances from not just Emun Elliot, but also Sarah Lancashire as Miss Audrey, head of Ladieswear, not to mention the rest of the cast. And once I'd stopped trying to spot the fake Geordie - something I do a lot when a programme is set in the North East of England, our accent's not the easiest one to mimic - I settled down and enjoyed 8 episodes of absolute heaven! I got lost in the story, found myself becoming involved in the lives of the people who lived and worked in the store; I loved the whole atmosphere the programme created. It was just beautiful. So, to find out that a second series has been commissioned, well, I'm ecstatic! And I look forward with great eagerness to later in the year, when The Paradise will return - hopefully with Moray still at the helm.

And it was only whilst I was watching The Paradise that I realised I had actually watched quite a few costume dramas in the past - anyone remember The Duchess of Duke Street? Or that other one where they did dressmaking... what the hell was it called again...? *Nips off to Google* House of Elliot! That's the one! I loved those. Watched them both, and thoroughly enjoyed them. So when I casually wondered out loud to myself "When did I stop watching costume dramas?", my husband graciously replied, "When you met me." So, it's his fault, then. 

Anyway, The Paradise done and dusted, I decided to turn my attention to ITV1's offering - coincidentally, also involving a department store - Mr. Selfridge, the story of the man behind the store in London's West End. Now, there seems to be a pattern emerging here - if it's to do with shops, I appear to be quite keen to watch it - so I couldn't help but compare the two programmes, probably because of the shop-theme connection. And then I realised, you couldn't really compare the two at all. They're too different.

Now, I'm not saying I'm enjoying Mr. Selfridge any less - I'm not, not really - but it does have a very different feel to it. Whereas The Paradise was almost gentle in its pace, and was very much a love story, when all was said and done, Mr. Selfridge is much more in-your-face, so to speak. It's more glamorous, more glitzy - it just has a completely different feel, but that's not a bad thing. I'm liking it, even though I'm only 3 episodes in but, once again, thanks to SKY+, I can catch up at my leisure.

Jeremy Piven as Mr. Selfridge
But, where both shows can compare is their choice of lead actors - Emun Elliot was brilliant in the role of store owner John Moray in The Paradise, and Jeremy Piven is just as brilliant in the role of Harry Selfridge. In fact, he's making the show for me. I really enjoy watching him.  

And I have to mention the fabulous Katherine Kelly, too. She's shown all of us that she's put the character of Becky McDonald (Coronation Street) behind her to play a great part in Mr. Selfridge - Lady Mae Loxley.

So, I appear to have rekindled my love of the costume drama - sort of. You'll still be hard-pushed to find me in front of 'Call the Midwife' or 'Downtown Abbey', but anything to do with shopping? I'm there!

But, in the battle of the department store owners, who wins it for me? You don't really need to ask that, do you? I'm a Moray girl all the way... ;)


  1. I love Downton Abbey! Didn't watch Paradise or any of the others you've mentioned here. I do like costume drama but prefer it to be more regency than Victorian or Edwardian.

    I could see Martin Shaw in a costume drama and me playing his heaving bosomed wench :-)

    1. You, and Martin Shaw? Never! ;) I'd quite like to be a heaving bosomed wench opposite Jim Caviezel's masterful American hero... and not altogether sure that thought is going to do anything for my already dwindling concentration levels this afternoon...

  2. I have enjoyed both The Paradise and Mr Selfridge and you're right, the Paradise is a much gentler version, though I did wonder whether they based any of it on the Selfridge story as they are quite similar. As my proper name is Audrey I have never managed to live down the Miss Audrey tag ever since! Mr S seems totally driven by his need to be the best - I wonder if he was really as enthusiastic as they portray him. He certainly galvanised his staff into action. Also it really brings home how restricted womens' lives were at that time and makes me glad I was born when I was. BTW I share Kathryn's love of Mr Shaw - he was the trigger for my grown up writing - I just loved him when he was Ray Doyle in The Professionals in the 1970s and for me he's still as attractive today!

  3. You're so right about womens' lives being restricted back then, Jo. I've only watched about 4 episodes of Mr. Selfridge so far, but in the last one I watched people were horrified at the idea of lipstick being sold over the counter! It's difficult to believe that something we women take for granted now was once something so taboo!

    And I think we're all in agreement about Martin Shaw! ;)