FEATURE: The Paradise vs Mr Selfridge: Battle of the Department Store Dramas

It’s been a few weeks now since ITV’s Mr Selfridge ended, and longer still since the final episode of The Paradise over on the BBC. Suffering department store drama withdrawal symptoms as I am, I have decided, selflessly, to give us all one last dose, in a form I feel department store owners the world over, fictional or otherwise, would wholeheartedly approve of. So, in the spirit of friendly competition, I am going to attempt to decide, once and for all, using a totally non-scientific list of comparison points entirely made up by me: which is better, The Paradise or Mr Selfridge?

1.   Overall Premise
Kicking things off with arguably the main contrasting point between the two shows, the overall premise refers to the primary concept behind the show, the bit they’ll have pitched to the TV bosses – each show’s unique selling point. For Mr Selfridge this is the fact that the storylines are based on true events, and upon a real life figure who actually lived and breathed, a man who’s shop still stands on Oxford Street, and indeed on city streets across the nation today. In short, the fact that it is a true story. The Paradise, on the other hand is based on a book by one of the greatest novelists of all time, Emile Zola. A naturalist (not naturist, just in case there was any confusion) giant with acutely cutting observations about the human condition, if anyone was going to accurately comment on ambition, consumerism and the rise, rise, and rise again of shopping for pleasure, it was going to be Zola. And blooming good job of it he did too.

Winner: The Paradise – you can’t argue with Zola’s. It’s one thing to look back on a historical event and dramatize it, but to be far ahead of your time with your thinking deserves a win as far as I’m concerned.

Paradise 1 : Selfridge 0

2.   The Big Boss
Closely linked to the category of ‘overall premise’ in importance, comes the idea of The Big Boss. This battle, then, lies between Harry Selfridge and John Moray. Harry Selfridge is powerful, ambitious, American and, again, actually a real person. John Moray, with his ridiculously-Anglicised-for-TV-audiences-name, shares many of the same traits, but is entirely fictional. Both have dark, tortured streaks not too far under the surface, both have dark hair and beards, both have eyes ranging in the brown to hazel area,  and neither is especially tall. Harry, however, is a womaniser, conducting numerous affairs with progressively more irritating women, if Ellen Love is anything to go by. Moray, on the other hand, simply yo-yos between two women, whilst diligently mourning his dead wife. He also doesn’t nearly kill himself by going out a drunken speeding spree in a motor car, which is a plus.

Winner: The Paradise’s John Moray. He’s just better. And sexier.

Paradise 2 : Selfridge 0

3.   Posh Totty
Ah the posh totty. Both shows had strong contenders in this category, but there was a clear winner from the off. The Paradise offered Katherine Glendenning, Moray’s fiancée, and haughty money-bags Lady about town. She wears some nice frocks, has quite nice hair, and a good eye for fashion, but throws a strop and runs to Daddy every time she doesn’t quite get her own way. Mr Selfridge, on the other hand, provided us with I think one of my favourite TV characters in recent months- Lady Mae Loxley, played superbly by Katherine Kelly . I have no idea whether or not she’s based on a real person, but I hope to God she is. Married to Lord Loxley , but managing to only actually be in the same room as him two or three times a year, if she’s feeling generous,  Lady Mae does whatever she likes, whenever she likes. With a string of much younger lovers, wise investments all over town, a sharp tongue as well as the wealth and wit to back it all up, there’s never a dull moment when she’s around, or indeed when she’s on screen. A thoroughly modern woman, she even runs a branch of the Suffragette movement, holding meetings within the store even when forbidden to do so.  She’s also just a little bit nasty when she wants to be. And she has huge hair.

Winner: Advantage Selfridge.  No contest, really.

Paradise 2: Selfridge 1.

4.   Central Female Lead
Another element both shows have in common is their young female lead character focus. The Paradise has Denise, a cute young woman from the countryside who comes to town to make some money for her family, discovering whilst there that she has a real talent for retail, and falling in love with the brains behind The Paradise at the same time. Mr Selfridge gives us Agnes, a brunette to Denise’s blonde, Agnes serves Mr Selfridge in a shop she’s working in, subsequently losing her job as a result of the exchange. Later, falling on hard times, she appeals to Mr Selfridge for a job in his store, and, what do you know, she too has a talent for shop-keeping. They’re both a little sickly sweet, but mean well and care about their family and friends. Denise’s story is far more central to the plot of The Paradise than Agnes’ is to Mr Selfridge, but Agnes is more ambitious than Denise, always prioritising herself and her career before any male advances.

Winner: It’s a draw on this one, as I can’t decide.

 Paradise 3 : Selfridge 2

5.   Mid Management Matriarch
Aside from the overall boss of the store, both Denise and Agnes work under the watchful eyes of their immediate departmental managers. For Agnes over at Mr Selfridge , this departmental manager is Miss Mardle, played by Amanda Abbington. Downtrodden and treated badly by her secret lover, chief of staff Mr Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) Josie Mardle is initially quite grumpy, without many friends or ideas of her own. Things get a bit better when she befriends Miss Ravillious a new addition to the store and later Agnes’ second manager when she switches departments, and we start to see some lovely character development as she develops a bit of confidence. And  a bit of a back bone. And learns how to smile. Which is nice. There is certainly no lack of back bone in her counterpart over at The Paradise, however. The formidable Miss Audrey has ringlets to die for, a sharp tongue and is a career woman to the last. Sure, she can be a bit ridiculous, totally oblivious to the large amount of eye rolling going on whenever she is on her high horse and begins one of her speeches, but she ultimately means well. Ish. Anyway regardless of all that, she’s played by Sarah Lancashire, in precisely the sort of role she was born to play, so that should settle that, I think.

Winner: The Paradise. Why? Sarah Lancashire, that’s why.

Paradise 4 : Selfridge 2

6.   Male Support
No pretty young female lead or power hungry higher level professional lady would be complete without a little help from the boys. Well, they probably would, but I needed a Segway. Anyway, as you have doubtless come to expect by now, both shows have worthy contenders in the category of male support. A couple from each, in fact, The Paradise gave us Mr Dudley, Moray’s right hand man. Clean shaven, clever and just a little bit sarcastic, Dudley is an all-round nice bloke who keeps the madcap Moray’s feet on the ground, providing emotional support and love life advice to boot. Even if it isn’t heeded. We also have Sam (Stephen Wight) a well-meaning, slightly dozy lad about town. With a cheeky glint in his eye and a pithy comment never far from his lips, he develops a teensy crush on Denise. Sam’s equivalent in Mr Selfridge is a good looking bloke called Victor Colleano. Briefly a lover of Lady Mae (mind you, who hasn’t been?), Victor is a waiter in the store restaurant, with dreams of being the head Chef in his own establishment one day. He also has a not so terribly well hidden crush on Agnes. Finally, the Mr Dudley’s Oxford Street counterpart can be found in the form of Henri Leclair. French, creative and dashingly good looking, Agnes falls for Henri for a time, enjoying a brief affair with him before he vanishes off to a better job in New York, leaving Agnes to wander back to the slightly cocky Victor in her own good time.

Winner: Mr Selfridge, just for Henri, really. His name is fun to say in an over done French accent. 

Paradise 4 : Selfridge 3

7.   Guest Stars
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we come to tonight’s final category. Guest stars. In theory, Mr Selfridge should be steaming ahead here, as the show’s different storyline every week but essentially leading to the same end point anyway premise provided an endless conveyor belt of guest starts. Fair enough I hear you cry, but The Paradise simply has to win this category for one reason only, and one guest star in particular. Playing the sleazy, desperately ambitious Bradley Burrows, and proving yet again that you can place him squarely in the shoes of any character and he’ll transform seamlessly into them- Arthur Darvill takes this win for the BBC’s department store offering. Even though he’s only in one or two episodes, and winds up in the river at the end of it.

Winner: Arthur Darvill. Er, sorry. I mean The Paradise.

Which makes the overall winning show The Paradise, with 5 points to Mr Selfridge’s 3. So there you are. In this instance, fictional BBC escapism wins out over slightly grittier ITV sort of historical drama.

I think I can live with that myself, but which was your favourite? Let us know!

- Jen 

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