Neverending Stories? The Paradise and the Period Drama Series

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The BBC’s costume drama The Paradise, which aired on Tuesday nights in the UK in Autumn 2012 and was recently commissioned for a second series, represents a relatively new departure in literary adaptation and period drama. The Paradise is a loose adaptation of an Emile Zola novel, but one which, like scriptwriter Bill Gallagher’s previous success, Lark Rise to Candleford, has the potential to substantially alter and expand its source material. Like Lark Rise, Cranford, and Call the Midwife, The Paradise stands as an example of a costume drama that works as both serial and soap. It features self-contained episodes and series climaxes, but also a single main setting, recurring characters, sentiment and melodrama, and the prospect of an ending infinitely deferred (as long as viewing figures hold up).
This chapter considers the viability of such a production model, and some of the tensions between the need to satisfy target audiences for the classic-novel adaptation, and at the same time, more casual viewers who may be drawn in by the soap-opera elements. The chapter argues that serials like The Paradise point to a way in which, in difficult financial and political times for the BBC, the corporation can monetize its cultural capital by introducing economies of scale – the factory model – to the formerly time-consuming, hand-crafted, one-off model of the costume drama.
The chapter draws on research on soap opera as a genre, its relationship to stage and film melodrama, and the ways in which the relationship between soap and costume drama has been recalibrated over the past decade (as discussed, for instance, in Christine Geraghty’s recent book on the BBC’s 2005 Bleak House). It also links the recent development of such ongoing televisual stories to the phenomena of blockbuster film cycles and franchises, and fan culture, drawing on the recent, materialist adaptation work of Zeller and Murray.
The essay therefore explores the tensions between the series’ very particular resonances for UK audiences - in terms of the great sweeping historical dramas of British television’s ‘golden age’ like Upstairs, Downstairs and The Onedin Line - and their international export potential in today’s market.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUpstairs and Downstairs
Subtitle of host publicationBritish Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey
EditorsJames Leggott, Julie Taddeo
Place of PublicationLanham, Maryland
PublisherRowman and Littlefield
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781442244832
ISBN (Print)9781442244825
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2014

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