For one of the most stylish, engaging, and binge-worthy pieces of streamed escapism, look no further than The Ladies’ Paradise — the fantastico period romance drama from Italy.
You know the kind of sigh you let out after having a delicious meal, when your satisfaction is demonstrated by the gentle exhale and the smile on your face? Well, that was my experience after watching the first episode of The Ladies’ Paradise (Il paradiso delle signore), the fabulous costume drama series directed by Monica Vullo (Don Matteo) and Luca Brignone (Fog and Crimes).
As with the BBC series The Paradise, The Ladies’ Paradise is based loosely on French author Émile Zola’s novel of the same name (Au Bonheur des Dames en français).
The first season of the Italian series is set in 1956 and opens in the town of Castelbuono in Palermo, Sicily, where the beautiful and fiery Teresa Iorio (Giusy Buscemi, Don Matteo, Medici: Masters of Florence) gives her fiancé, the mayor’s son, what for (in public, no less) for cheating on her.
So it’s off to Milan Teresa goes to stay with her Uncle Vincenzo (Fabrizio Ferracane, Palermo Connection) until the scandal from the couple’s brouhaha dies down. But her arrival in the large, cosmopolitan city isn’t very welcoming: Teresa is greeted first by a would-be robber and then the police, who are hauling Vincenzo out of his small tailor’s shop and off to jail, charging him with arson.
What now? Confront the man who accused her uncle, that’s what. So it’s off to The Ladies’ Paradise Teresa goes to get Pietro Mori (Giuseppe Zeno, Anti-Mafia Squad, Camorra Connection), the owner of the new and modern department store, to recant his accusation. It turns out he’s the same handsome and dashing chap who prevented the thief from making off with Teresa’s belongings.
Fast forward: Thanks to Mori and his adman, the Lothario-ish Vittorio Conti (Alessandro Tersigni, Tuscan Passion, Romanzo Criminale), but much to the chagrin of the strict and humorless but loyal store manager, Clara Mantovani (Christiane Filangieri, Crimes, Perlasca), the provincial Teresa joins a group of citified young women in competing to be one of the store’s salesgirls, aka “Venuses.” Let the cattiness and underhandedness begin!
Meanwhile, Mori has an urgent matter to attend to, namely saving his store. Neither Carlo Mandelli (Corrado Tedeschi, Un posto al sole), the new owner of the bank that financed The Ladies’ Paradise, nor any other banker in town will extend any more credit to Pietro. And his suppliers are demanding payment before delivering any more goods.
The thing is, there’s more to Mandelli pulling the plug on Pietro’s credit than fiscal management. And when the banker pulls a stunt against Mori that is so egregious, even his team says (worriedly and out loud) that it will destroy the department store and its owner.
Now Mori is really and truly backed into a corner. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Pietro is desperate enough to concoct a scheme and head to Bar Milano, the new, hip bar in town, to begin implementing it — a plan that will have repercussions on him and Teresa as well as others.
Because, of course, Pietro is attracted to Teresa, as is Vittorio, and she is attracted to him (and the other him). And then there’s Mandelli’s daughter, Andreina (Alice Torriani, Un passo dal cielo, Detective Montalbano)…
But neither man can sweep Teresa off her feet, and she won’t be able to fully realize her dream of independence, if her father drags what he considers to be his traitorous daughter back to Castelbuono to fulfill on her arranged marriage to the mayor’s son.
Originally aired in 20 episodes on Italy’s RAI, The Ladies’ Paradise: Season 1 is streaming in the US in ten feature-length episodes — all of which are currently available on Acorn TV and the Acorn TV Channel on Amazon.
Season 2 of the award-winning series premiered on RAI a little more than a week ago, so fingers crossed we’ll see it in the States next year!
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