26/09/2012 07:09 BST

TV REVIEW: The Paradise - Sarah Lancashire, Patrick Malahide Star In BBC's Latest Period Drama

Sneaking in ahead of ITV's imminent department store offering, the BBC has stolen a march with The Paradise, a sumptuous period drama that makes Downton Abbey look positively subtle.

Based on the novel The Ladies' Delight by Emile Zola, this has all the ingredients of a classic 19th century romp - a big behemoth of a shop threatening to swallow up all the little ones around it (did I say 19th century?), a handful of sneering harridans led by a scenery-chewing Sarah Lancashire, who's obviously been watching a certain Dowager Countess for lessons in arch-ery and bagged all the best lines, and a rich young woman intent on using her father's fortune to bag her dashing suitor, the store's young owner John Moray (Emun Elliot).

Who'd have a simple country girl would have caught the eye of the dashing store owner?

This marital scheme may yet be dashed by - you guessed it - a pretty country girl, Denise (Joanna Vanderham), who, happily, makes up in common sense and bright-eyed charm anything she lacks in airs and graces, which of course does not go unnoticed by the her new boss. Did I mention how pretty she is, or "what kind of girl has such spirit? I think you are not like the other girls..." Told you this ticked all the boxes.

Sarah Lancashire as Ladieswear boss Miss Audrey - gets all the best lines

While the women are all adequate, it's the chaps who provide the backbone here - Patrick Malahide's Lord Glendinning is a cynical businessman with a soft spot where his daughter is concerned, while Emun Elliot manages to stop just this side of camp as the obsessed young store owner John Moray. And what did really happen to his first wife, never to be mentioned?

John Moray (Emun Elliott) is obsessed with giving women what they want... in his store

It's lack of subtlety means it's no Downton, but The Paradise sits happily snuggled on the challenging spectrum somewhere between Midwife and Parade's End with everyone acting their socks off, and I thoroughly expect a second series to be announced within weeks.

It's irresistible from the bowler hats to the silk ribbons to the balloons proclaiming 'Sale' - as Lord Glendinning ponders, "Who'd have thought shopping for goods would have such an effect on women?"...

Photo gallery BBC's The Paradise See Gallery