Curdled milk for the masses: The Paradise, Mr Selfridge and the seductive spectacle of the department store | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2044-2823
  • E-ISSN: 2044-2831



In 2010 the BBC commissioned an ambitious adaptation of Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames/The Ladies’ Paradise ([1883] 2012) by established dramatist Bill Gallagher. Transposing Zola’s story to Victorian England, Gallagher hoped that its topicality, set during a time of great social change, would resonate with a contemporary audience familiar with a dying high street and endless online shopping. The BBC targeted the global interest in British, quality period drama following the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey (2010). The Paradise aired in September 2012 but would run for only two series before being summarily decommissioned. Brutal market forces occasioned this dramatic change in fortunes. ITV had launched their own rival department store series about an American entrepreneur and his ambitious wife, Mr Selfridge (2012), capturing the audience desired by the BBC. This article contextualizes both productions and their audience appeal. At a time of economic austerity, with ‘make do and mend’ regarded as a virtue, and the high street struggling to survive as online shopping expands, what are we to make of the nostalgia for the traditional department store and its pleasures? Why did The Paradise fail to resonate with the domestic where Mr Selfridge succeeded?


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