There are two period drama mini series that I want to write about that I haven’t yet. They are some months old now so many of you have probably already seen them, but I’ve still been planning to write about them, so I might as well. One of them is called “Mr Selfridge” the other one “The Paradise”.
The Paradise came out last autumn, a series in 8 parts by BBC based on a book by Émile Zola (which really made me wary of it to start off, because my experience of reading a book of his - Thérèse Raquin – was not a very good one. But this was nothing like it). Set in London in the 1870s the Paradise is a story about a department store named, aptly enough “The Paradise”. The Paradise is a shop like no other of its time, it is meant to make shopping a whole new experience and all those who step in through the doors are transported to a place filled with beautiful things, all of which they are obviously supposed to feel they will never be complete until having. The owner, Mr Moray, is a man who has raised himself up in the world through hard work and is now the shining star of the Paradise, he is the main reason for its success.
Filled with characters such as the bright and clever shopgirl Denise who is quickly winning favor with Mr Moray for her ideas when it comes to the shop, the jealous Clara, the fashionable (but not necessarily stylish… I have to say many of the dresses she wears are pretty atrocious) Miss Glendenning who is determined to marry Moray whatever comes and the endearing Pauline there are many little plots in the story.
Now the funny thing is, just a few months after this show was aired another one made its apperance on TV. This one was Mr Selfridge, an ITV series in 10 parts based on the book by the actual Mr Selfridge. As I’m sure you know Selfridges is one of the major department stores in London, and this is the story of how it all started and the man behind it.
I am not usually in the habit of watching series on TV, by the time shows like this come to Sweden it has been out a long time already in other places and I usually find my patience lacking. So mostly I end up watching them online somewhere or buying them. But for this I didn’t. So for 10 weeks the whole family sat down every Sunday to watch an episode.
Once again this is set in London, a few years later this time in 1909 the show begins with the newly completed massive department store opening its doors to the Londoners for the first time. Mr Selfridge has come over from America and is a man of drive and ambition, not afraid to work hard to keep his store a success. He too has raised himself up in the world, from poverty to become one of the, in some ways, most influencial men in London.
His store is something special, there is supposed to be something there for everyone, the super elite and wealthy as well as the people who are perhaps not as fortunate with regards to money. Shopping is meant to be an experience (notice a theme here??) and they go out of their way to ensure that people come to the store by bringing exciting things that are currently in the news there, whether it is a real live airplane or the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova.
Of course with such a big store there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people involved in it. And just like in The Paradise this is full of plots and characters. There is love and jealousy, there is despair and worry, ambition and failures. I heard someone describe this show as “Downton Abbey in a commercial setting”, and though I can’t agree with it being quite like Downton (very few things can rival that!) there is something in that. Just like in Downton we get to follow the lives of people in all the different “levels”, from the working girls at the counters in the accessories
department to Mr Sefridges own family and the high and mighty people who have welcomed them into London society.
Some of the elgant leading ladies of Mr Selfridge
I think it’s funny how two such very similar stories were both filmed and brodcasted within such a short time of each other. I mean, they are basically the same! I’ve heard someone claim that Mr Selfridge is just a copy of the Paradise, but since the first mentioned is based on a actual people and events (to a certain extent at least) that is not the case. I’m curious though, why all of a sudden this interest in London department stores?? I’m not complaining, not at all! I loved both shows and happily watch one period drama after the other, but I do think it a little funny.
Mr Moray and Mr Selfridge, they even look the same!
I would also have to say that if I would pick my favorite of the two it would be Mr Selfridge. It felt more ‘real’, had some great characters in it, and I thought it seemed a little more accurate. Where The Paradise is like a colorful, light and delicious macaroon Mr Selfridge felt more substantial, yet equally satisfying, meal . And Andrew Davies who wrote the script for the latter has a knack for doing excellent shows. But I would definitely recommend them both! And just to give you a feel for the two shows here are the trailers for them.
Pretty similar eh?