In what has all the makings of the ultimate UK version of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, the BBC has fast-tracked its answer to the upcoming ITV drama, Mr. Selfridge, with a department store drama of its own based on the classic French novel, The Ladies’ Paradise, by Emile Zola. Adapted by Bill Gallagher (Blackout), the 8-part BBC One drama will transfer to a department store in 1890s northern England and will focus on the story of a love affair set against the backdrop of the opening of the first department store.
Remembering the Upstairs Downstairs vs. Downton Abbey train wreck from several seasons back when the revival of the classic 70’s drama suffered greatly when the ITV juggernaut, Downton Abbey, hit the airwaves ahead of the BBC’s updated Up/Down, the BeeB definitely doesn’t want to test Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity where you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Sarah Lancashire (Lark Rise To Candleford, Five Daughters) and David Hayman (Trial and Retribution) will star in The Paradise and will be joined by Elaine Cassidy (Harper’s Island, Fingersmith), Matthew McNulty (The Syndicate, Misfits), Joanna Vanderham (The Runaway, Dancing on the Edge) and Emun Elliott (Lip Service, Game Of Thrones).
According to initial reports, Vanderham will play the smart and ambitious Denise Lovett, who arrives in the city to seek work in her uncle Edmund’s shop. When he’s unable to help her, she turns to the Paradise and her eyes are opened to a whole new world of possibilities. It then turns into the traditional rags-to-riches story where she falls in love with the charms of the modern world and the store’s owner John Moray. With some classic ‘upstairs downstairs’ tension, also in pursuit of Moray’s affections will be the upper class daughter of a rich banker, Katherine, played by Elaine Cassidy. Obviously, a far cry from, if my memory serves me correctly, the last department store hit, Are You Being Served?.
That said, The Paradise seems to be part of a much greater overall BBC initiative whereby a growing number of dramas, comedies and children’s output will film across northern England. Filming on The Paradise began in June and will be the biggest drama to date to be filmed BBC Drama Productions with BBC North.
The good news out of all of this is, whatever the reasoning, viewers on both sides of the pond will be the beneficiary of some pretty killer drama as evidenced by the output from both the BBC and ITV over the past several years.