Bill Gallagher's adaptation of the much-loved classic French novel by Emile Zola has been relocated to a British setting for BBC One’s drama The Paradise.
The story of a love affair set against the backdrop of the opening of the first English department store in 1875.
Smart, ambitious and big hearted Denise Lovett played by Joanna Vanderham 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.
This impossibly glamorous store provides the catalyst for her rags-to-riches story as she falls in love with the exhilarating and dangerous charms of the modern world.
Entwined in this intoxication is The Paradise’s dashing and reckless owner, John Moray, played by Emun Elliott a buccaneering capitalist, self-made and utterly modern man who inspires in Denise a passion and creativity she didn’t know she had.
Filmed on the Lambton Estate outside Durham, Simon Lewis, the producer of The Paradise, talks about finding the right location for the drama and how the novel has been adapted for a UK audience.
The novel is set in Paris and you’ve transposed it to a northern English town. Can you tell me more about that?
We’re not specific about which northern town we’ve set The Paradise in.
We did discover the first department store in the country was in Newcastle. However, it’s a coincidence really that we’ve ended up in the North East. We’re here because we found the Lambton Estate - but we could have been anywhere. We looked all over the country – in Wales, in Devon, all sorts of places – and this was the best house.
The story has a modern resonance. Is that something that attracted you to working on the drama?
Yes it did. Zola’s novel was published in 1883 and he was talking about the big shops killing off the artisans, the craftsmen, and you think, well that’s no different to us bemoaning the arrival of another chain store on the High Street.
He was talking about capitalism and how it was killing off the art of making things individually and personally and replacing it with something much more cynical - that’s a completely contemporary notion.
Is that what gives this period drama a different edge?
When I read it I thought, it’s sort of Sex And The City in the 19th century.
I think a lot of the values are fairly contemporary. We’ve dressed it up in a very fancy setting and actually a lot of the dynamics that the characters face are really modern.
How did you find the Castle you have built the set of The Paradise in and around?
We employed a location manager who did lots of research and we were offered lots of houses that might be suitable.
We had a vague idea of what we wanted, which was something that had a grand interior. When we first saw the house - a castle on the Lambton Estate - it had plaster falling off the walls, lots of leaks, it was very cold and wet, - but it had lots of potential.
It has a beautiful hall, gorgeous staircase and a lovely room downstairs that we use as the ladieswear department - which Denise works in. There’s also the back of house areas as well – the long corridors upstairs, which we turned into dormitories for the shop girls who work in ladieswear.
How long did all that work take?
About six months, but it came in stages. We had to do drawings and submit them to the council, we had to obtain planning permission before we could start the work.
How was renovating the building?
Nobody thought that we were going to be ready. On the first day of filming one set had been completed, which was Lovett’s interior. We started filming in there, and we were in there for about a week. For the first couple of weeks we were going on to sets when the paint was still wet.
Gradually, within about a month of us starting everything was finished. The street was the last thing to be finished because the rain was terrible.
You can’t use modern materials on an historic building - you’ve got to use the same materials the house is built with. We had to use a lime-based plaster to plaster the walls, and a modern-day plaster will dry in two or three days, a lime-based plaster isn’t dry after three weeks. The walls were still wet! As we were filming on some sets, we had lots of big space heaters blowing at the walls, trying to dry them.
The sets look incredible and beautifully detailed with props. Was there a particular find that you were really pleased with?
We went to lots of local auctions and bought up multiples. If anyone was selling a collection of anything – pipes, mugs, shavings, brushes we bought them. Obviously we’ve got to have lots to make it look like a shop.
The work the art department put in was enormous and incredibly detailed. We have bought stuff on the internet from Indonesia, and stuff from Bulgaria, a lot of the tables and chairs in the Great Hall are from Indonesia, all the chandeliers are from Bulgaria.
I wanted the interiors to sparkle - 19th century bling, before they knew what bling was. We sprayed everything gold so all the colours are light and bright.