onsdag 9 januari 2013

All that glitters is not high-quality costume drama

I know it is unfair to pour sarcasm over a series after only having watched the first episode. Firstly, few series get in their stride until the second episode at least - anything can happen. Secondly, the series in question - the BBC's The Paradise - is so clearly made with an audience like myself in mind. This is not one of those period dramas - unlike The Bletchley Circle, another BBC drama I trudged through recently courtesy of Swedish Television - which carries a whiff of disdain with it for what the genre usually has on offer. Instead, like the eager sellers of its department store, The Paradise really wants to give the customers what they want. Glitter, dresses, romance, a large cast of characters involved in more or less epic plots, a hero and heroine who have to overcome obstacles to end up together, that is if we really want them to? Oh, yes, Madam, I'm sure we can manage that. In view of this unashamed courting of the costume drama vote, I really should let the series find its feet before commenting on it.

Except commenting is irresistible. Partly, it's because I have very little else to blog about. I started the new year with repeats, rereading a Jude Morgan novel, which was faintly self-indulgent, and rewatching Downton Abbey from the very beginning of series one, which was and is downright unhealthy in my current frame of mind. (Is the gobbiness of Bates just a tiny bit annoying, or is it just me? It's just me, isn't it?) The only other alternative I could see would have been to have a good grumble about the aforementioned dreary Bletchley Circle, which looked from the description as if it could have been a sort of combination of Sherlock and Call the Midwife with a bit of Foyle's War thrown in - Fifties setting, clever women with lipstick solving crime by being incredibly brainy - but which turned out to be a gloomy tale of a serial killer of the worst kind.  It didn't really seem tempting. Another reason for blogging about The Paradise - and the main one - is that it promises to be such complete codswallop.

Where to begin? Maybe with the hero, or main male protagonist or whatever one should call him. The story is set in late-Victorian London, and a lot of the plot hinges on the supposed charisma of the owner of the department store where the fresh-faced heroine, newly arrived from Scotland, finds employment. The department store is the eponymous The Paradise, the owner is called Mr Moray, and just about every woman in the series lusts after him. "If there is a more attractive man within a hundred miles, I'll kiss my husband", coos the friend of the conniving heiress who wants to bag him. Well, sweetheart, you can start kissing your hubby right now. It was always going to be tricky to convince contrary viewers like myself that a man over whom such a fuss is made is really that attractive. And, true enough, I don't understand Mr Moray's charm at all. He seems to me to be an oily, self-fancying mountebank with a ghastly beard. Not that I always disapprove of oiliness, or mountebanks, or self-fancying for that matter. Maybe it's the beard that clinches it. I wouldn't buy so much as a handkerchief from him. His worried partner is somewhat cuter, but then he doesn't have much competition: menfolk are, understandably considering the setting, thin on the ground.

As to the other characters, I wonder if one can even call them that. Yes, here things may improve. There is not much room for in-depth characterisation in a first episode. Still, the worrying thing is not only that there seem to be only function characters about, but that they fulfil their functions so badly. The Ladieswear department in the store is run by a Miss Audrey, who is meant to be the Dragon of the piece. But she is not given any withering put-downs, nor any real authority. All she does is witter on about this and that being "a sin", reminding one of Miss Lane in Lark Rise and her "one weakness". I felt tempted to tell her, in my best Downton-baddie accent, "give it a rest, luv, you're clearly not up to this kind of thing". The Jealous Rival is little better, and as for the Pampered Heiress - good gracious. Patrick Malahide, as always, raises the tone as the doting heiress-dad, and there is a perfectly serviceable minor villain in the form of a snooping old employee on the sidelines, but otherwise it is a stilted and unconvincing affair. I'll not dwell on how it's not a patch on Downton - who would have thought otherwise? But The Paradise also suffers by comparison to the BBC's own costume dramas. For instance, the new Upstairs Downstairs, though not as good as the old one, was still a very good effort and a great deal better than this tripe. I must say this much for The Paradise, though: the settings are sumptuous. I'll keep watching, just for the pleasure of being sarky about it. At the end, though, I'll be very surprised if there is one single character I will care a smidgen for.