Six-part drama series Homefront follows a group of servicemen’s wives and families as they struggle to lead normal lives at home while their men are on active service in Afghanistan.
Each and every household, middle- and working-class, lives in fear of the knock on the front door that heralds news of a death in action, an event Homefront features within the first ten minutes of episode one.
This is an audacious and perilous strategy on the part of the show’s creators, who run a real risk of alienating its audience. Grief, loss and bereavement never make for easy viewing, particularly given Homefront’s uncompromising depiction of such suffering.
But viewers who persevered would have been rewarded with a compelling and challenging populist drama.
The committed and emotive opening also serves a solid dramatic purpose. Nothing defines a character quite like a crisis, while the episode is lent an impetus and energy by the enormity of the tragedy.
A great ensemble cast, including Claire Skinner and Clare Higgins, inhabit interesting characters and deliver sharp, believable dialogue. Having tested the nerve of its audience, I hope Homefront holds its own in the forthcoming weeks and resists the temptation to slide into soap opera territory.
Meanwhile, BBC1 is tapping into the nation’s seemingly insatiable appetite for period drama – or perhaps they just had some costumes that needed using up – with The Paradise, set somewhere up north sometime in the 19th century, centred upon the country’s first ever department store.
Opulence is the keynote here, something you are never allowed to forget. The cast, sets, costumes and lavishly overbearing soundtrack are all suitably gorgeous, combining to produce a confection so sweet it risks inducing diabetes in its audience.
Emun Elliott stars as the store’s dashing owner John Moray, a man with a swashbuckling attitude towards commerce, a flair for haberdashery, an eye for the ladies and a secret so dark that his staff risk instant dismissal if they even allude to it.
Enter Joanna Vanderham as Denise Lovett, a porcelain doll from Peebles with a soft Scottish accent and a hidden hard edge, seeking gainful employment among Moray’s army of subservient staff.
My guess is that these two will get together, but not before running the gauntlet of intrigues, heartaches, betrayals, rivalries, mixed messages and winter sales.
The Paradise is all very efficiently constructed, but it has no humour whatsoever and the cast is in thrall to that stiff-backed acting style directors feel typifies anything set in the past. One notable exception is Ruby Bentall, who makes shop girl Pauline come alive, stealing every scene she appears in. I couldn’t help but feel that a series based on Pauline would be a whole lot more interesting, not to mention unpredictable.
Perhaps all The Paradise needs is to loosen its stays, relax and realise its potential as a rollocking romantic melodrama. At the moment it feels like watching mannequins in a window display – albeit splendidly dressed mannequins.
Homefront, ITV1, Thursday, September 27, 9pm
The Paradise, BBC1, Tuesday, September 25, 9pm