Monday, September 29, 2014

Return of the (Cornish) Native

A new BBC adaptation of Winston Graham's acclaimed novels
will see the 2015 return of Captain Ross Poldark.

Anyone familiar with this blog would know that I'm a great admirer of Winston Graham's Poldark novels.

Set in Cornwall at the turn-of-the-nineteenth century, a time of sharp class divisions, social upheaval, and war, I think it's fair to say that the twelve novels that comprise the Poldark saga are historical fiction at its best.

The series' protagonist is Ross Poldark, a member of the landed gentry who finds himself at odds with his own class over the social and economic status quo that impoverishes local miners and many others of the working class. In the first novel of the series, which Graham originally intended to call The Renegade before deciding on Ross Poldark, the young Captain Poldark is introduced as a battle-scarred veteran of the American War who, upon returning in 1783 to his derelict family estate on the windswept coast of Cornwall, discovers his widowed father dead and the woman he loves engaged to his cousin. Bitterly disappointed and close to financial ruin, Ross nevertheless vows to make the most of what he has.

In this previous post I recollect how, as a teenager, I was introduced to the Poldark novels via the popular mid-1970s BBC TV series Poldark, a series I write about here.

Last year I revisited the Poldark novels, reading all twelve back-to-back – a feat that took me from April to September to complete. I either found the books at used bookstores or borrowed them from the public library. Becoming re-aquainted with these novels and their various characters and stories was a very enjoyable experience and made me realize that I'd like my own copy of each of the novels. It took me about eight months but by May of this year I had collected the series as published by Pan Macmillan in the U.K. One reason I chose this edition was because of the art design of the books' covers. It's clear that whoever designed these covers has actually read each of the Poldark novels as there are all sorts of relevant little details and references within the artwork. Plus they just look good!

Early in my re-reading last year of the Poldark novels, I heard that the BBC was making a new adaptation of them. It was exciting news, but I also felt some trepidation. Would this new TV series be true to the books? Who would play the main characters of Ross and Demelza? George and Elizabeth? Would the complexity of these characters and their lives be dumbed-down in order to make a kind of eighteenth-century Downton Abbey?

Well, I'm happy to say that I was soon both heartened and excited to hear that Debbie Horsfield, the writer of the new Poldark TV series, has great respect and admiration for Winston Graham's original novels. And let's face it, a great TV experience will be guaranteed if this new adaptation embodies the spirit of Graham's books.

After all, as Horsfield reminds us: "Winston Graham's saga [is] an epic journey of love, loss, heartache, betrayal, ambition, survival and redemption, set in a turbulent era in history, with an extraordinary array of beautifully-drawn characters, and a romantic hero of immense complexity."

In a March 2014 interview with David White of BBC Cornwall, Horsfield discussed further the project she and her colleagues at Mammoth Screen production company are working on.

[The twelve Poldark novels] are fantastic books. Winston Graham is such a masterly storyteller. . . . His characters just leap of the page; they're so engaging. [Ours] is a new adaptation but it very much goes back to the original books. The language is the same, all the events are [the same as] in the original books, the characters are the same as written in the original books. Our bottom line is that we love the books. We are fans of the books and [we're dedicated to] a new adaptation of the books. The books are our source material and every generation deserves to see [a new adaptation of them].

The original [BBC series in the 1970s] diverged quite considerably from the books – in lots of ways, actually. I can safely say that we are sticking much more closely to the books. We've been talking extensively with the Winston Graham estate, with Andrew Graham, Winston Graham's son, and we've been very keen to make sure we preserve the integrity of the material. And he's apparently thrilled with what we're doing. And we're thrilled that he's thrilled. And that was always our aim: to translate amazing books to the screen.

In the BBC's enormously popular 1970s Poldak the role of Captain Ross Poldark was played by Robin Ellis (left). In his memoir Making Poldark, Ellis offers the following to account for the success of the first Poldark TV series.

Thanks to Winston Graham, it had great characters who live out good storylines in a classic family saga in the magnificent Cornish countryside. Winston lived in Cornwall himself for many years, was married to a Cornishwoman and was steeped in its history.

The BBC in those days was an experienced and talent-laden organization with fine in-house costume, set and make-up departments training their own recruits. The attention to detail was exemplary. The cast was in good hands and we were a happy, united company of actors.

Above: Author Winston Graham on the set of the first Poldark with Angharad Rees (Demelza), Robin Ellis (Ross), and Paul Curran (Jud).

In praising the casting of Irish actor Aidan Turner (right) in the lead role of the new TV adaptation of the Poldark novels, screenwriter Debbie Horsfield notes the following about the character of Ross Poldark:

In Winston Graham's amazing books Ross is such a complex character. He's very impulsive, he's a rebel, but he also has a strong sense of moral justice and integrity. So he's an outsider. . . . He's also a great romantic hero. He's torn between two women from two different classes and backgrounds.

Above: Aidan Turner with Robin Ellis, the actor who played Ross Poldark in the BBC's popular mid-1970s Poldark series. Ellis plays the Reverend Halse in the new adaptation.

I close by sharing some great images of Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark on the set of the new Poldark adaptation. Turner has signed a five year contract with the BBC, which bodes well for the filming of all twelve Poldark novels. Filming of what will be the first season of the series finished last month. So far no date has been given for when the new Poldark will air next year. In the U.S., it will be broadcast as part of PBS's Masterpiece series. For updates, click here.

Above: Aidan Turner with Poldark co-director Edward Bazalgette.

Above: Preparing to shoot a scene at Dollar Cove in Cornwall.
(Photo: Tim Martindale)

Above: Aidan with (at left) Poldark executive producer Karen Thrussell.

Above and below: I particularly like these behind-the-scenes shots showing Aidan Turner in his eighteenth-century Poldark garb sitting amidst the film-making technology of the twenty-first century!

For previous Poldark-related posts, see:
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
Cornwall's – and Winston Graham's – Angry Tide
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

Recommended Resource:
A Winston Graham Reader – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, September 6, 2014).

Related Off-site Links:
Andrew Graham, Son of Author Winston, on Poldark FilmingThe David White Show (BBC Cornwall, June 10, 2014).
Aidan Turner Shoots Late-night Shipwreck Scene as Filming Continues on Poldark Remake in Cornwall – Ryan Smith (Daily Mail, July 1, 2014).
First Image: Aidan Turner In BBC One’s Poldark Reboot – Patrick Munn (TV Wise, May 8, 2014).
Anger as Poldark Begins Filming – in Wiltshire – Martin Hesp (Western Morning News, May 8, 2014).
Brooding Looks from Star Aidan Turner as Poldark Comes to Corsham – Joanne Moore (Gazette and Herald, May 6, 2014).
Poldark Filming in Corsham with Aidan TurnerWestern Daily Press (May 6, 2014).
Together Again! Aidan Turner's Ross is Reunited with Heida Reed's Elizabeth as Filming Begins for Poldark Remake – Archie Rice (Daily Mail, May 6, 2014).
BBC One Drama Poldark Begins Filming at Bristol's Bottle Yard StudiosTheBottleYard. com (April 27, 2014).
Chavenage House Gets 18th Century Makeover for Filming of BBC's Poldark – Brendan McFadden (Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, April 23, 2014).
Poldark: Bristol is Hosting Comeback of TV's Top Bodice-RipperThe Bristol Post (April 16, 2014).
Robin Ellis: My Return to Poldark . . . the Remake – Peter Robertson (Express, April 10, 2014).
Passion, Pilchards and Why Poldark is Sexier Than Mr Darcy – Jan Moir (Daily Mail, March 31, 2014).
Eleanor Tomlinson to Star as Demelza in BBC One Drama PoldarkBBC (March 31, 2014).
Unveiled: Eleanor Tomlinson, Poldark's New Demelza – Ben Ellery and Peter Robertson (Daily Mail, March 29, 2014).
Poldark Finds Its DemelzaScreen Terrier (March 28, 2014).
Some Fans of Poldark Not Happy With Choice of Aidan Turner for Starring RoleCornish Guardian (March 15, 2014).
Poldark Role for Hobbit Star Aidan Turner Press Association via Yahoo! TV (February 28, 2014).
Hero Hobbit Aidan Turner Has Embarked on New Quest as Star of Poldark – Nicola Methven (The Mirror, February 28, 2014).
Poldark: Aidan Turner Has Big Shoes to Fill – Sarah Crompton (The Telegraph, February 28, 2014).
Revealed, New Star of Poldark: Irish Actor Aidan Turner to Take Role on Remake of Much Loved Costume Drama – Emma Lowe (Daily Mail, February 27, 2014).
Aidan Turner to Play Poldark in New BBC Adaptation – Ben Dowell (Radio Times, February 27, 2014).
Poldark Remake for BBC OneBBC News – Entertainment and Arts (May 9, 2013)

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