Look what I found on Netflix! Émile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise as a series!

Image from BBC
I've been trolling around on Netflix (Sherlock and The X Files have an undeniable pull) and I stumbled upon the series The Paradise. Described as "An intoxicating love story set in England's first department store in the 1870s," I got hooked and was quite disappointed that it only had two seasons and no more to follow. I've just finished it the entire series (16 episodes in all) and thought maybe you'll enjoy it.

It's Book-inspired!

I love it when I stumble across a movie - or in this case a Netflix series - based on a book! It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this series is based on Emile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise (translated in some editions as "The Ladies' Delight") with the following blurb:

The Ladies Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) recounts the rise of the modern department store in late nineteenth-century Paris. The store is a symbol of capitalism, of the modern city, and of the bourgeois family: it is emblematic of changes in consumer culture and the changes in sexual attitudes and class relations taking place at the end of the century. This new translation of the eleventh novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle captures the spirit of one of Zola's greatest works.
I've never read any of Emile Zola's work, so this series piqued my interest and I'll be on the hunt for his books from now on.


What I liked about The Paradise

The Paradise was first broadcast in 2012. You gotta love Netflix for adding on lesser known shows; I'm finding it is quite the treasure trove and I've even got a whole bunch of recommendations of movies and series based on books now. (So this feature may become a bit of a more regular thing on Guiltless Reading if I end up watching and writing about them.)

The first episode opens with a young country lass, Denise, coming to northern England from Peebles, Scotland. She visits her uncle Edmund Lovett, a draper whose shop is right across the posh and prestigious The Paradise. It's evident that The Paradise is slowly killing away the smaller and decrepit stores around it. Denise applies to be a shopgirl in the women's fashion department and gets in easy.

Hooked? That I was.

The series explores themes that you'd expect of a soap opera: love and lust; and status, influence, and money; and plenty of scheming and politicking ... all in very proper (and not-so-proper) 1870s fashion. It's interesting that this series features the lives of the gentry as well as of the common folk.

With the novelty of the concept of the department store, I found the old-worldliness of The Paradise quite charming. Many marketing and promotions schemes were explored and put to the test, a reflection of today's advertising - mega-sales, in-store themed promotions, even leveraging the power of gossip (today's social media).

Denise in The Paradise (Photo from BBC)
I loved the main storyline showing Denise's ambition, her ascent in The Paradise because of her drive and innovative ideas, and her hidden desire to be Moray. Who doesn't love a strong heroine, especially when it seems the world conspires against her? Of course I was rooting for her, how could I not?

Love stories and its many complications abound: between Moray and Katherine Glendenning, between Moray and Denise (oh yes, but I was not liking this match-up), and even between two rather unlikely characters.

The Paradise had the feel of a family business. I really enjoyed the banter (and the jealousies) of the shopgirls, the hustle and bustle in the shop, the gossip in the kitchen, and so much happening that one can never really be bored.

Uh-Ohs

Now, right off the bat, I realized that the series is not the book; it's merely inspired by the book. For one, the original Parisian setting has been transplanted to England - which is entirely expected of BBC. As such, the are only references to the cultural openness and flamboyance of Paris hinted throughout the series. A little disconcerting was that all the names are Anglicized (Mouret becomes Moray). I am sure a lot of cultural references have been lost in this adaptation.

I loved the first season. The second season took on some strange turns and I wasn't quite happy with the ending ... but I could accept it. I just felt it was a little too predictable for my taste.

Verdict: 

A charming and endearing story of the first department store in England, replete with love story, the emergence of women's right to equality, and plenty of scheming. Gorgeous sets and costumes make this a sight for vintage fashion and history lovers. Go watch it while it's on Netflix!

Would you watch this? Have you read any Émile Zola?


Links:
The Paradise (TV Show) on Wikipedia

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3 comments :

  1. This is so great! I'm an avid reader but sometimes I'm on a tight budget, you know? (3 kids and all that) and I don't spend more than $20 every 2-3 months on e-books. That said, if I get a sample or borrow some from the library, I like to give reviews, I feel like I contributed my time at least.

    Thanks for sharing on the Small Victories Sunday linkup!

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  2. I'm such a cheapo when it comes to books! There are so many great sources of free to low-cost that I find it a little silly to pay full price on books.

    It's my pleasure ... happy Sunday, Gina!

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  3. This sounds really great! I would love a regular feature on movies/tv shows adapted from books - I'm adding this to my Netflix list.

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