It Started in Paradise

It Started in Paradise is a 1952 British drama film, directed by Compton Bennett and starring Jane Hylton, Martita Hunt and Muriel Pavlow. Set in the world of haute couture, the film was squarely aimed at female audiences. Its storyline of an established master of her craft being usurped by a younger, ruthlessly ambitious underling, who then years later finds the same thing happening to her with a waspish male critic on hand throughout to provide a steady stream of acerbic, biting commentary led inevitably to the film being dubbed the All About Eve of the fashion world.

It Started in Paradise
Promotional poster
Directed byCompton Bennett
Produced bySergei Nolbandov
Leslie Parkyn
Written byMarghanita Laski
StarringJane Hylton
Martita Hunt
Muriel Pavlow
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyJack Cardiff
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
28 October 1952
Running time
94 min.
Box office£72,000[1]

It Started in Paradise was shot in Technicolor and is described by Hal Erickson of Allmovie as: "an unusually plush, Lana Turner-esque production to come from a British studio in the early 1950s".


In 1938, Mme. Alice (Hunt), chief designer of a famous London fashion house, has lost her touch. Where once she was the most sought after designer in the city, now her creations seem locked in the past and clients are looking elsewhere for modern fashions. She is persuaded by her senior assistant Martha (Hylton) that she needs a long holiday to recapture her creative inspiration. Once Mme. Alice has departed the fiercely ambitious Martha, who has been biding her time for several years, launches a coup, designing and presenting a range of up-to-the-minute garments which are a huge success with the fashion media and bring clients flocking back to the salon. The financial backer of the business is delighted with the upturn in profits; Martha is promoted to chief designer and Mme. Alice is quietly retired.

Over the course of the next decade Martha, with the help of Alison (Pavlow), a talented girl she took on straight out of school, restores the house to its pre-eminent position in the London fashion world. She becomes so driven that she starts not to care who she treads on in her quest to be the best in the business. Over the years while her professional career goes from strength to strength, she neglects friends, treats associates badly and makes business enemies.

By the start of the 1950s Martha too seems to have had her day; appreciation for her designs tapers off and her reputation falls. Those she has alienated on the way up are only too happy to watch her on the way down. Meanwhile, Alison, having waited for her own chance, seizes the opportunity to present her own designs which are acclaimed as fresh, innovative and contemporary. Alison is in, Martha is out, and the cycle begins again.


Critical reception

The Times gave a scathing review of the film in 1952, saying: "The boldest pen may be excused from shying away like a nervous horse at a high fence from this truly deplorable film. Its world is the world of Haute Couture. It has probably got most of the details right and very admirable are some of the Technicolor backgrounds, but that is the most that can be said in its favour".[2]

The New York Times was also less than enthusiastic, drawing comparisons with the earlier British fashion picture Maytime in Mayfair and commenting that British films about haute couture: "have a tendency to run somewhat to froth". It concluded: "Well, let's be gentlemanly about it. Maybe there are those who can find some sort of excitement in the kind of lather worked up in this film". It did, however, comment that Ronald Squire had a few good lines and the visual portrayal of the dress salon was well defined.[3]

Guide to British Cinema in 2003 described it as starting strongly, but with a disappointing climax.[4]


  1. BFI Collections: Michael Balcon Papers H3 reprinted in British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference By Sue Harper, Vincent Porter p 41
  2. "New Films in London" (52459). The Times. 3 November 1952.
  3. Crowther, Bosley (25 July 1953). "It Started in Paradise (1952)". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  4. Mayer, Geoff (2003). Guide to British Cinema. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 212. ISBN 031330307X. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
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